The Minnesota State High School League is expected to approve a week-earlier start to the 2015 football season to ensure a full slate of games and full postseason participation for every team in the state.
But no firm answer appears likely on the equally urgent issue of district scheduling to guarantee teams eight regular-season games without leaving the state.
On Thursday, the board of directors is expected to approve two recommendations to finalize the 2015 football schedule. First, team practices will begin Aug. 10, a week earlier than originally planned despite concerns about cutting into players’ summers.
Second, games will begin on Aug. 22, a week earlier than normal, in lieu of the traditional Saturday scrimmages. The move means schools will play two games before Labor Day, risking hotter temperatures for game nights and a drop in attendance and ticket sales.
As for player safety concerns, Dr. William Roberts, chair of the league’s sports medicine advisory committee, said many scrimmages “are still hard-hitting and lots of kids are on the field for long periods.” Data will be collected this fall, Roberts said, to examine how player safety compares in scrimmage and game situations.
The league’s coaches and sports medicine advisory committees are recommending the changes. In addition, three members of a 19-member committee of activities directors, which meets Wednesday, also are recommending the moves, intended as a one-time solution to 2015’s unique scheduling problems.
The 2015 Prep Bowl will be played at TCF Bank Stadium because the Vikings stadium is unavailable until 2016. But conflicts with the Gophers football schedule caused the seven championship games to be scheduled on Nov. 13-14, two weeks earlier than usual.
“We’ll do what we have to do,” Mounds View activities director Bob Madison said. “This is the best of some not-great options.”
While 2015 appears to be solved, the likelihood of a more permanent fix for fixing annual scheduling challenges for larger, traditionally successful Lake Conference schools Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Wayzata is less promising despite almost four years of periodic discussion.
District scheduling, the latest possible solution, guarantees teams all eight regular-season games in Minnesota. The plan would group large numbers of teams primarily based on geography but also enrollment. The plan also could have effects on conferences.
The past 10 years has seen teams, particularly those in the Lake Conference, spend thousands of dollars traveling to avoid missing out on a Friday night under the lights.
“We can’t rely on the schools to solve the issue,” said Wayzata coach Brad Anderson. In 2014, his Trojans will play eight games against Minnesota teams for the first time in about a decade. “That’s why we need an outside [entity], whether that’s the Minnesota State High School League or the Legislature, to step in and ensure opportunities for student-athletes to participate.”
Schedule concerns emerged in a bill introduced during the 2013 Legislature by Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka. It demanded that the MSHSL, an independent organization, provide schools a full eight-game regular-season schedule against Minnesota teams.
The 2015 season could be especially challenging for Lake Conference schools. When the conference settled on its current configuration in 2010, a five-year agreement was reached with the Northwest and South Suburban conferences to provide a total of three crossover games. With the agreement set to expire later this year, all five Lake schools could be in need of four nonconference opponents.
Adding an unusual sense of urgency, Kevin Merkle, MSHSL associate director and head of the football task force, has said, “The status quo is not acceptable.” But last week Merkle said a decision might not come Thursday. If tabled, the topic would next be discussed at the April 3 board meeting.
If a decision is delayed until April, “we could still get things done for 2015,” said Barb Beise, Wayzata assistant activities director and 6AA Region representative. “But each month that goes by, it gets harder to make it reality for 2015.”