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Class 6A football scheduling gets new look that has some coaches frowning

By DAVID LA VAQUE, Star Tribune , 05/18/21, 7:00AM CDT


The plan seeks to improve competitive balance among the 30 biggest programs in the state. But some coaches aren't so sure.

Coach Brian Vossen leads a Lakeville North program that will be in the Gold District and has been in the Class 6A state tournament's final eight teams from its inception in 2012 through 2019. Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com

A major shakeup to Class 6A football, the most prominent collection of teams in the state’s most visible sport, will create scheduling districts of teams with sharply different track records of success.

Beginning this fall, 30 metro-area schools will compete in Gold and Maroon districts, with teams playing the bulk of their regular-season schedules within their district. While the format seeks more competitive balance, the grouping of teams is one some coaches cannot fathom.

Here’s why: In the eight years of Class 6A football from 2012 to 2019, the 16 Gold teams account for nearly 80% of the final-eight teams (51 appearances) in the state tournament field. Those power programs include Eden Prairie, Lakeville North and Rosemount. Meanwhile, the 14 Maroon teams account for 20% (12 appearances).

Only one Gold team (Farmington) has not reached the final eight since Class 6A began in 2012. Half the teams in the Maroon group have not gotten that far.

“In what other sport do you take the best teams and, for that reason, put them in the same section or district?” Rosemount coach Jeff Erdmann said.

Call it the “haves” vs. the “trying to haves” programs. Because “have nots” does not fit larger Maroon schools rooted in suburban communities such as Eastview (located in Apple Valley), Stillwater and White Bear Lake.

How it works: 14 of the 16 Gold teams will play six of their eight-regular season games within the district plus two crossover games against Maroon teams. The other two Gold teams receive one crossover game. Random draw dictates all decisions, from which two Gold teams play just one crossover game to the entire slate of crossover matchups.

That’s different from years past, when games were scheduled largely based on geographic districts.

Class 6A program coaches always have supported eight regular-season games and the playoff format. But seeding the postseason, called “contentious” and even “bloody,” could get even more difficult.

With no more than two crossover games for any Gold or Maroon district teams, coaches will be forced to weigh strength of schedule against win-loss records. And strength of schedule is often willfully ignored, Lakeville North coach Brian Vossen said, as a team with a better record against weaker opponents angles for a first-round home playoff game.

“Just say out loud what the reasons are for these districts,” Vossen said, “because that will make face-to-face seeding more fair.”

A 10-person District Football Placement committee took feedback from schools and then made recommendations to the 16-member Activities Directors’ Advisory Committee. Then the plan went to the Minnesota State High School League Executive Committee for approval.

Eric Brever, a district football placement committee member, said programs’ recent win/loss performance “pretty strongly” factored into whether they were put in the Gold or Maroon districts.

“A lot of the schools in the Maroon District couldn’t get back on their feet when playing against great programs every week,” Brever said. “There were about 10 schools stuck at the bottom, and those were essentially the same schools asking for relief.”

Filling out the group left some Maroon District teams puzzled.

“Some Maroon schools reached out and asked, ‘How did this happen?’ Because they weren’t requesting relief,” said Jim Galvin, one of four activities directors responsible for creating the 6A football schedule.

Shakopee coach Ray Betton said, “Three years ago, we would have been a Maroon District team, and I would have been fighting to play at least four of our games against the Gold District. I don’t know how you can tell your kids that you want to win a state championship without playing the top teams.”

Shakopee coach Ray Betton celebrated with his players after a Class 6A playoff victory over Farmington on Oct. 25, 2019. Photo: ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com

Minnetonka Activities Director Ted Schultz, another scheduling committee member, considered the modified Gold and Maroon districts “an overreaction. There is no one with Class 6A football scheduling experience on the placement committee, and that’s why the results went too far one way. We hear a lot more about playoff seeding concerns that schedule relief.”

Regardless of how the playoffs begin, the result has been annually similar. Six of the 30 schools (20%) account for more than half (33) of the state tournament appearances: Lakeville North (eight), Eden Prairie (seven), Maple Grove and Rosemount (five each), Totino-Grace and Minnetonka (four each).

Trying to find light through football’s sequoias is tough for saplings. Park of Cottage Grove can relate. A Class 6A program from 2012-14, the Wolfpack posted a 6-21 record with no playoff victories. Moved to Class 5A from 2015-19, they enjoyed three winning seasons and won three playoff games.

Park of Cottage Grove returned to Class 6A this fall when its initial appeal to remain in 5A was denied. Activities Director Phil Kuemmel said the school’s placement in the Maroon District could be the right launching point.

“We can build our program playing eight competitive games and one or two games against powerhouse teams vs. the other way around,” Kuemmel said.

As for football coaches questioning whether there is such thing as too much relief, Galvin, a former Mounds View football coach, said, “I would say yes. But I respect the process.”

Mounds View players celebrated with their Class 6A section trophy after defeating Buffalo on Nov. 1, 2019. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky • aaron.lavinsky@startribune.com

6A football balance elusive

A new scheduling plan for Minnesota’s 30 Class 6A football programs seeks to create more competitive balance by creating two new Gold and Maroon districts, each split into two divisions of teams.

The 16 teams in the Gold district accounted for 80% of the final-eight state tournament teams from 2012 to 2019. In the 14-team Maroon district, seven programs have never reached the final eight and three have made it just once in eight years.

District/division / Final-eight appearances
Gold North 
Maple Grove 5
Minnetonka 4
Totino-Grace 4
Wayzata 3
Blaine 2
Champlin Park 2
St. Michael-Albertville 2
Centennial 1

Gold South
Lakeville North 8
Eden Prairie 7
Rosemount 5
Prior Lake 3
Edina 2
Lakeville South 2
Shakopee 1
Farmington 0

Maroon North
Mounds View 2
Osseo 2
Roseville 1
Anoka 0
Forest Lake 0
Stillwater 0
White Bear Lake 0

Maroon South
Eastview 3
East Ridge 2
Burnsville 1
Woodbury 1
Eagan 0
Hopkins 0
Park of Cottage Grove 0

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