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New football scheduling plan would group Minnesota prep teams by geography

By David La Vaque, Star Tribune, 08/06/13, 12:39PM CDT


Some consideration for enrollment also would factor into a Minnesota State High School League attempt to improve balance.


High school football teams throughout Minnesota have missed games, incurred travel expenses to play opponents in other states, and sometimes changed conferences in the quest for more competitive games.

In hopes of resolving these complex challenges, Minnesota State High School League associate director Kevin Merkle outlined the concept of statewide football scheduling groups at Tuesday’s board meeting in Brainerd.

Schools would be put in groups of 14 or 16, based primarily on geography but with some consideration for enrollment. Schools within those groups could schedule games based on competitive balance or long-standing rivalries.

That flexibility, Merkle said, gives the scheduling groups concept an advantage over section scheduling, a proposal the board voted down in 2011. The section scheduling idea locked in fewer schools by class, sometimes at the expense of geography and competitive balance.

“Right now I think it’s better, but what I think isn’t necessarily the best answer,” Merkle said. “The idea was to come up with options for our board, so we make a decision shortly after the first of the year.”

The next steps, including meeting with football coaches and soliciting feedback at high school league area meetings, are set for September.

In the five-team Lake Conference, football powers Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Wayzata have traveled to other states in recent years to ensure full eight-game regular season schedules. This fall will be the second consecutive season Wayzata plays only seven games.

“We’re still hopeful that somewhere along the line all of our schools will have all of their games scheduled,” said Hopkins activities director Dan Johnson, who oversees the Lake’s football scheduling. “But not everybody needs that. There are conferences who say, ‘Leave us alone and let us do our own football scheduling.’ Getting that acceptance is the big thing.”

More teams are growing sensitive to the plight of schools with scheduling challenges, Merkle said.

“What has happened in the past few years is that more and more schools, even if their situation isn’t bad, had realized that we probably have to do something for the good of the whole,” Merkle said.

After the Metrodome

During the meeting, directors were told that the St. Cloud State campus could be home to the two-class soccer state tournaments in 2014 and 2015. The soccer and football state tournaments long have been held in the Metrodome, which will be demolished early next year to make room for the new Vikings stadium.

Associate director Jody Redman called St. Cloud “one potential site” being explored.

State quarterfinals are already played in St. Cloud but moving the entire tournament there presents challenges, Redman said, including parking and playing outdoors in late October or early November.

In football, the 2014 Prep Bowl moves to TCF Bank Stadium. The two-day, seven-game event will be held Nov. 21-22, marking the first time in the Prep Bowl’s 33-year history the games will not be played indoors.

The games, will be a week earlier than their usual Thanksgiving weekend slot because of how the calendar falls. No other playoff format or schedule changes are expected for 2014.

The 2015 football season likely will start one week earlier. Another option is shortening the postseason by limiting the number of teams that qualify for the section playoffs.

TCF Bank Stadium gets its first taste of state tournament football this fall when two Class 6A state quarterfinal games will be played there.

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