At it’s meeting last Thursday, the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors approved a plan, effective in 2015, that will drastically change how regular season football is played in high schools across the state.
Many schools across the state expressed struggles with filling the regular season schedule, as evident in a survey conducted by the MSHSL Board.
In a 19-1 vote on Jan. 23, the MSHSL Board adopted the idea of district football, dissolving the current conferences in favor of larger groups of schools, preferably 16 or more, that are geographically similar as well as similar in size. The minimum number of schools allowed in a district will be 10. This district format aims to reduce scheduling issues among schools, so each school is able to play a full eight-week regular season.
Schools within each district will work to make full schedules for each team, and each team must play the eight-week regular season against schools in their district.
A placement committee will be formed to correctly place schools in districts based on factors such as strength of program, school size, geography, and “like schools.” The goal is to have enrollment within the district be no more than 2-to-1.
The districts will be realigned every two years, as the sections are, to accommodate changes in schools. The postseason format of section play will remain the same, with seedings based on regular season performance.
Waconia Activities Director Jill Johnson said WHS is open to trying a new way of scheduling, having dealt with scheduling issues in the past.
“Once all of the details are worked out and if district scheduling can make it possible for all varsity football teams in the state to play an eight game schedule, that is a good thing for kids!” Johnson said.
Waconia head coach Sam Baker said the Wildcat team itself is more focused on building a successful program than restructuring.
“I think that the MSHSL is trying to solve some issues and we are a part of that process,” he said. “Right now our kids are working hard in the weight room and focusing on next year and continuing to build our program.”
He said when district scheduling rolls around, the team will continue to simply focus on winning.
“Once we get to the district scheduling, our kids just want to play games and win games and that’s their bottom line, which is great to see,” he said. “We have great kids and a great program.”
Mayer Lutheran Activities Director Tim Bierbaum said district football scheduling will solve the dilemma LHS faced of whether or not to leave the Minnesota River Conference.
“Prior to district football we were considering the disparity between our enrollment and the enrollments of the biggest schools in our conference,” he said. “I knew that if that gap increased, we were going to have to look for a different conference for football. District football puts us with the right sized schools for football and leaves us with the right schools for the rest of our sports.”
The LHS football team has long been the smallest school in the MRC and this season, was the only Class A school in the conference. Bierbaum said district football could even help players stay healthy.
“Competing has not been a problem for us, but when playing a school with more than twice our enrollment, they have more players and likely fresh players later in the game,” he said. “Playing tired players against fresh players is a recipe for injury.”
Holy Family Catholic High School head coach Dave Hopkins said the new alignments are not crucial to the Fire football program.
“I know that no matter what structure that we are given, there will always be people who are happy and people who are unhappy,” he said. “I’ve always believed that in order to be the best you have to beat the best. Time well spent is trying to figure out how to win games instead of complaining about your path to get there.”
All other high schools sports and activities will retain the current conference format.
Also at the Jan. 23 meeting, the Board approved the 2015 football time line for both the regular season and playoffs. The 2014 and 2015 Prep Bowls will be played at TCF Bank Stadium, and the stadium is only available two weeks earlier in November 2015 than usual. Without reducing the postseason or regular season lengths (which were options considered by the Board), the 2015 football teams will be able to begin practice Aug. 10 of that year, with first regular season games on Aug. 22. This reduces the preseason practices from three weeks to two. This year’s 2014 schedules will remain unchanged.
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