Rochester John Marshall forward Matthew Hurt dunking against Cretin-Derham Hall in the 2018 Tip-Off Classic (Shari Gross, Star Tribune)
The high-profile boys’ and girls’ basketball tournaments that have become kickoff events ushering in the start of the season are not expected to happen this season.
Breakdown Sports USA, a 19-year-old Minnesota company that organizes tournaments, showcases and pre-season leagues and publishes comprehensive sport-specific yearbooks across seven team sports, acknowledged Thursday that their signature tournaments “are officially cancelled.”
The most notable cancellations are The Breakdown Girls’ Tip-Off Classic, a popular early-season tournament that had lined up 40 of the best teams in Minnesota and Iowa in a two-day showcase format on Nov. 20 and 21. The similarly-formatted boys’ Tip-Off Classic, scheduled for the first weekend in December, will not happen, either.
The all-day tournaments are popular for the quality of the teams they attract and draw dozens of college recuiters.
University of Kentucky mens' basketball coach John Calipari in the stands scouting Apple Valley's Tyus Jones at the 2012 Breakdown Tip-Off Classic (Marlin Levison, Star Tribune)
“We’ve sent out a memo to high school coaches,” said Breakdown founder Justin Hegna. ”The only chance we have at running any sanctioned high school events if is things are lifted and right now, that doesn’t look likely. It will probably be summer before we resume events.”
It didn’t come as a surprise that the tournaments wouldn’t be viable this season, Hegna said, considering how “closely we’re aligned with the high school season.”
“Everything we do follows the high school league guidelines,” said Hegna, who coached girls’ basketball at Becker, his alma mater. “With the reduced schedule and the lack of spectators, we just weren’t able to do it. About 70, 80 percent of what we do has been cancelled.”
While the tournaments, which also include the popular Granite City Classic in St. Cloud during winter break and others around the state during January and February, will not be held this season, the Breakdown did manage to conduct its 16th fall league basketball season. It recently wrapped up its eight-week season. Response was so good, Hegna said, they went ahead and developed an abbreviated second fall league that runs on Nov. 15 and Nov. 21-22.
The leagues are made up of what is essentially the high school team, sans its head coach (who, by MSHSL rules, is not allowed to coach the high school team out of season).
The intent of the fall leagues intent is to help the high school players and coaches come together and develop their team concept “after playing with the club teams all summer,” said Breakdown President Tim Kolehmainen, who oversees the publications portion of the operation.
“It gives teams a chance to develop right up to the start of the season, which is important now that the season has been moved back,” Kolehmainen said. Boys’ high school teams can officially begin practices on Nov. 23. Girls’ basketball practices will begin on Dec. 7, later than the boys to avoid crossover with the volleyball season.
While the Events side of the Breakdown Sports USA has taken a hit due to COVID-19, Kolehmainen said the publications side hasn’t seen much of a drop off. The publications, glossy hardcover 200-plus page yearbooks that include features, predictions and team-by-team scouting reports on every team in the state, have soared in popularity since they were first introduced in 2001. The Breakdown now publishes yearbooks in seven team sports: Volleyball, Boys’ and Girls Hockey, Boys’ and Girls Basketball, Softball and Baseball.
Kolehmainen said he’s been getting consistent response to his inquiries for the publications despite the uncertainty surrounding high school sports.
“I think people are excited just thinking about a season,” he said. Last spring’s softball and baseball yearbooks were popular despite the season being cancelled. “Even if it didn’ happen, it’s a memento of what should have been.”
And the adjustment caused by the pandemic even yielded a positive change on how the yearbooks are compiled.
In past years, Kolehmainen booked teams and players for the necessary photo shoots in half-hour sessions, often leading to players standing and waiting. This year, to account for social distancing needs, he set appointments for individual players in five-minute increments.
“They’re in and out the door in four to five minutes,” he said. “We haven’t heard a single person who hasn’t been positive about the change. I think we’re going to follow that model more.”
While the Breakdown has taken a financial hit due to the loss of the tournaments, which make up a large portion of its revenue, Hegna said that for now, they’re on firm financial footing.
“You always have to prepare for rainy days,” he said. “We’re used to it. In our winter events, weather can make an event a success or put you in financial difficulties. But we’ll be fine and we’ll be ready to go after all this is over. We’ve been through bumps before.”