BROOKLYN CENTER - On Thursday, the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors approved a district-oriented format for the football regular season, which will take effect in 2015.
The plan, which was passed in a 19-1 vote, will place teams into scheduling groups based on school size, geography, "like schools" and strength of programs, according to the MSHSL website. The groups could consist of at least 16 schools with a minimum size of 10. Postseason play will not be affected by the change.
The shift to the district format is rooted in the past difficulties in regular-season scheduling among larger schools in the Twin Cities area. New Ulm Cathedral coach Denny Lux said that since the schools in the Southern Minnesota Conference have not had such difficulties, a switch to district play may not seem too different in the New Ulm area.
"As far as what we're seeing, we don't see any benefit to us at all because we haven't had that problem with scheduling," Lux said. "It's just the bigger schools that are having a hard time finding opponents within their area or within their conference now that are struggling with the scheduling."
A placement committee will assign schools to scheduling groups, which will need approval from the MSHSL board once solidified. District drafting is slated to take place in April with scheduling to follow in June.
Wabasso football coach and activities director Joe Kemp is not in favor of the change.
"We had all these football conferences set up throughout the state and they're just all gone," Kemp said. "In reality, we could be sitting here with most of our same conference and the other side of it is if it comes out this spring, [the district line] could be sitting in between us and Springfield.
"That's something you'd hate to see and it's probably going to happen all over the state. There's got to be a line somewhere."
Nicollet coach Tom Murphy echoed Kemp's sentiments and said there are too many unknowns at this juncture for there to be statewide satisfaction.
"Scheduling issues are different everywhere in the state," Murphy said. "We're in a unique situation - we had a conference with 14 schools, it was working pretty good for us. There's part of me that wishes it didn't have to change because what we had was pretty good."
One of Murphy's biggest fears is that rivalries may crumble once districts have been crystallized. Would Nicollet still be able to maintain its rivalry with Cleveland or Madelia if they are separated in the new districts?
"I would have liked to have seen a proposal of what it looked before it was voted on," Murphy said. "Like anything, it's going to solve some problems that others had and it's going to create new problems."
A school like Nicollet, which is one of the smaller 9-Man schools with a 9-12 enrollment of 72, would be subject to a more radical change in scheduling than 11-Man teams. This is because 11-Man districts could possibly include teams from more than one class.
The main guideline for grouping bigger and smaller schools together is that the difference in enrollment should be no more than 2-to-1 and when applicable should be smaller than 2-to-1. That means New Ulm, which has an enrollment of 523, would not end up a district with Cathedral (144) or Minnesota Valley Lutheran (191).
Lux said Class A schools that are below the 165-mark in enrollment will still be able to opt up. Every team in the Southern Minnesota Conference except for Martin County West (217 enrollment), MVL (191) and Springfield (165) have had to opt up to compete in Class A.
Despite opting up to play at the Class A level, Kemp fears the district line may separate Wabasso from rivals such as Red Rock Central and Springfield.
"Here's a team that's 10 miles down the road that's your local rival - us and Springfield," Kemp said. "It's got to happen somewhere and that's my biggest concern."
Wabasso competes in the Southern Minnesota Conference with a majority of Section 2A teams, but bounces back and forth between Section 3A and 5A for football.
Kemp said the best-case scenario for Wabasso would be for it to remain with all its SMC rivals, but in crunching the numbers he said Cathedral and MVL are two opponents that could most likely fall outside its scheduling spectrum.
PREP BOWL PUSHED UP
Due to the limited availability of TCF Bank Stadium, the MSHSL board approved a timeline that will push up the Prep Bowl two weeks earlier than usual to Nov. 14-15, according to a news release.
The board considered shortening section playoffs and cutting regular-season games, but changes will not be made to either facet.
Practice will start on Aug. 10 and the first games of the regular season will be slated for Aug. 22, leaving two weeks of preseason practice intact.
These changes come in the wake of the demolition of the Metrodome, which closed its doors at the end of the NFL regular season in late December.