Minnesota high school football’s new district scheduling groups will be unveiled Monday, and coaches are eagerly awaiting the game plan.
Teams throughout the state will be placed in one of 18 districts, bidding farewell to the traditional conference model but welcoming fewer scheduling headaches for several programs.
The sweeping change, scheduled to begin in 2015, is expected to be approved at Monday’s board of directors meeting at league headquarters in Brooklyn Center.
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 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.”