The Minnesota State High School League is poised to schedule a highly unusual meeting as early as Friday to take up whether to reverse itself and start the football and volleyball seasons this fall.
The move surfaced Tuesday at a workshop for Board of Directors members who voted on Aug. 4 to postpone those seasons until March because of COVID-19 concerns.
After hearing discussion that included considerable feedback from schools in support of playing and balancing risks, board President Blaine Novak asked league Executive Director Erich Martens and legal counsel Kevin Beck what it would take to call a meeting for as soon as Friday.
The next board meeting is not scheduled until Oct. 1, which was seen as too long to wait.
During the meeting, conducted via Zoom, board members talked of trying to survey their 500 member schools as soon as Wednesday.
To get the meeting scheduled according to league rules, Novak was told he was required to give three days’ notice.
A league spokesman said after the meeting that Novak will decide Wednesday on the next meeting.
According to meeting discussions, the earliest potential dates for fall football games would be Oct. 2, with first practices Sept. 21. Volleyball matches could start Oct. 22, with first practices Oct. 12.
The push to rethink delays in sports seasons reflects a nationwide outcry, most notably aimed at college football, with some conferences moving forward with games while others, including the Big Ten, delaying their seasons. At the high school level, Michigan recently reversed its plan to play next spring and now intends to play this fall.
On Monday, Minnesota high school football and volleyball teams were allowed to begin three weeks of optional practices. Other fall sports, including soccer, cross-country, girls’ tennis and girls’ swimming and diving, were allowed to start their competitive seasons as scheduled Aug. 17.
Said Novak, “How has the information we used to make a decision in August changed?”
Board member Gary Revenig, Monticello’s activities director, said, “What’s different is that in August, surrounding states weren’t planning to playing football. They are now.”
In late July, a Minnesota Football Coaches Association survey found almost 70% of coaches favored playing football this fall vs. moving it to next spring. A total of 314 head coaches responded to the survey.
All those advocating for football this fall, said board member Dustin Bosshart, who serves as principal and football coach at St. Clair, need to consider a bigger picture.
“I want football to happen, but bringing it back in the fall creates issues that I don’t think a lot of people are even looking at,” he said.
League associate director Bob Madison, who oversees football, struck a different chord, saying, “We’ve put football on hold while other teams are playing and football coaches and players are saying, ‘Why not us?’ And I believe our student-athletes have the best opportunity in our schools. We offer the most controlled environment.”
Football is a major revenue source for most school districts and the high school league, which counts it as its second-biggest revenue generator after the boys’ hockey state tournament.
The league’s football and volleyball delays prompted more than 100 people to turn out Saturday for a peaceful protest outside the governor’s residence in St. Paul. The rally was organized by a Facebook group called Let Them Play MN. Site organizer Dawn Gillman said a petition on Change.org asking the league to rethink its decision has gained more than 17,000 signatures.
Tuesday’s workshop was billed as a discussion-only session, with no decisions made. The agenda included fall sports postseason plans, which remain unsettled even with seasons set to end within a month; the calendar for winter and spring sports, and a significant increase in membership fees for schools.
Board members also heard from Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) officials on COVID-19 outbreaks during summer months among athletes ages 15-18 in various sports. Senior epidemiologist Jayne Griffith said a “very large” outbreak involved 52 AAU basketball players and originated with a mid-July tournament in Iowa. Soccer had 98 cases. Hockey had 13 outbreaks. Other sports such as baseball, volleyball and football reported single-digit numbers of outbreaks ranging from two to seven cases.
The department did not have information on the severity of cases.
“It comes down to risks and how much risk you’re willing to take on as an organization,” said Daniel Huff, an MDH assistant commissioner.
Also on Tuesday, the league was accused of violating its own bylaws with the vote to move the football and volleyball seasons out of the fall season, according to a motion filed in Hennepin County District Court.
Filed on behalf of three unnamed central Minnesota high school athletes, the motion contends that league rules state that such changes are the domain of the league’s representative assembly, a legislative body of up to 48 people representing its 16 administrative regions, and asks that the board’s ruling be set aside.
Beck said during the board workshop Tuesday that “the board has the authority” to postpone a sports season without amending its bylaw through its representative assembly.
The motion is expected to go before a judge on Friday.
Staff writer Jim Paulsen contributed to this report.