Chaska's Justin Arnold ran for yardage last season against Hopkins during Zero Week.
Glad to have it. Not going to miss it. So goes Minnetonka coach Dave Nelson’s summary of high school football’s Zero Week.
Started as a Minnesota State High School League concept in 2011, Zero Week provided a growing number of schools the best — or only — option to play a complete eight-game regular-season football schedule. If two teams are interested in playing each other, but their schedules do not match up, Zero Week makes it possible.
Minnetonka opens its season at 7 p.m. Friday at Hudson (Wis.). A total of 33 Minnesota teams play Friday or Saturday, plus three Wisconsin teams. The Minnesota teams opened practice a week earlier in August than most teams. Later in the season, teams that played Zero Week games receive a bye week during which practice time must be shortened.
The drawbacks: Zero Week encroaches on students’ summer breaks and forces coaches to work an extra week without pay.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” said Nelson, whose Skippers are playing a Zero Week game in their third consecutive year to offset scheduling challenges in the five-team Lake Conference. “It got us to eight games, which is important. But starting a week earlier isn’t great.”
Those teams that shook up their traditional start dates and schedules through Zero Week could find an unusual 2015 season easier to navigate. Construction of the new Vikings stadium plus conflicts with Gophers games at TCF Bank Stadium means playing the Prep Bowl two weeks earlier than usual in November.
To ensure all teams a full regular-season slate of games plus full playoff participation next season, practices will begin on Aug. 10. Games will begin on Aug. 22, a week earlier than usual, in lieu of the traditional Saturday scrimmages.
The 33 Minnesota teams playing during Zero Week this year nearly triples the number (12) participating in 2011. The frequent dissolving and creation of conferences shook up schedules and played a factor in the increase, said Kevin Merkle, associate director who oversees football for the High School League.
Next fall, the traditional conference model gives way to districts. Districts consisting of 12 to 28 schools will each create a committee to handle scheduling. Merkle said teams must play a full district schedule to qualify for the section playoffs.
Districts will reduce but not eliminate the need for Zero Week, Merkle said. He said “probably four” situations — involving nine-man football teams in districts with an odd number of teams — might need another scheduling option.
Merkle said he thought Zero Week “might be used more but a lot of schools preferred not to play it. A few did. But it’s Minnesota and people protect their summers. But it really helped. For the schools that used it, it worked.”