District scheduling for high school football was approved at Monday’s Minnesota State High School League board of directors meeting at league headquarters in Brooklyn Center.

Teams throughout the state were placed in one of 18 districts, bidding farewell to the traditional conference model but welcoming fewer scheduling headaches for several programs. The sweeping change begins in 2015.

District links and maps are available here.

In the metro area, most schools are grouped into one of four districts.

The West Metro district of 16 teams includes all five Lake Conference schools – Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Wayzata. It stretches south to include Prior Lake and Shakopee and north to Andover, Blaine, Coon Rapids and Anoka. It also includes private school football power Totino-Grace.

The Suburban district has 16 teams of slightly smaller size, ranging west to Waconia, Chaska and Chanhassen, south to Bloomington Jefferson and Kennedy, and north to Irondale and Spring Lake Park. Private schools DeLaSalle and Benilde-St. Margaret’s also are included.

The East Metro team has 26 teams, including several South Suburban Conference teams such as Rosemount, Apple Valley, Lakeville North, Lakeville South, Farmington and Eastview, as well as Suburban East Conference members East Ridge, Stillwater and White Bear Lake. Private schools St. Thomas Academy and Hill-Murray also are included.

Minneapolis and St. Paul schools are grouped in the 28-team Twin City district, along with several inner-ring suburban schools.

The board approved the district football scheduling concept in January after passionate pleas from coaches and activities directors. Some sought to ease long-distance travel within or beyond the state for games. Others wanted to guarantee e all players the opportunity to play a full slate of eight regular-season games.

As many as 12 to 28 schools will be in each of the 18 districts. Schools will notice a “high percentage” of the districts are aligned with mostly familiar opponents, said Kevin Merkle, league associate director and head of the football task force.

Before the districts were set, schools were asked to rank their priorities for district scheduling. The three criteria were geography, enrollment and “like schools,” an umbrella term for strength of program or socioeconomics of a community. In addition, schools were asked to list a rival program.

A 10-person placement committee met five times to design districts, Merkle said. The committee included football coaches, activities directors and former league board members.

“Some districts fell together logically, some were more difficult,” Merkle said last week. “In general it fell together better than I thought.”

Districts were designed to be large to allow scheduling flexibility, Merkle said. The placement committee will offer suggestions such as breaking into sub-districts, Merkle said, but scheduling decisions will be made at the district level. District placements are final, Merkle said.

“There is an opportunity for teams to get more competitive schedules,” Merkle said.

A recent league survey of school officials found that 41 percent of schools reported difficulty with regular-season football scheduling in the past 10 years. Lake Conference schools such as Minnetonka, Hopkins and Eden Prairie competed against out-of-state teams at times; Wayzata recently played just seven regular-season games.

Those challenges, along with pressure from state legislators, convinced Merkle “the status quo is not acceptable.”