Attempting to address a looming budget deficit, the Minnesota State High School League will ask its schools to pay more in membership fees as the upcoming school year opens with reduced sports seasons.

The league’s board of directors approved a recommendation from a finance task force formed July 14 seeking to reduce the league’s budget reliance on state tournaments, which currently generate about 80% of the league’s revenue, and seek more from its more than 500 member schools.

The need to move quickly was highlighted by the board’s more publicized decisions Tuesday to restart fall sports with limitations. It also signaled that traditional state tournaments are unlikely amid the coronavirus pandemic and health department guidelines severely limiting fans at events.

Previously the league had projected a $466,000 deficit in its $9 million annual budget if fall activities, including the football state tournament, were canceled. Consistently and by far the league’s second-most profitable event, the tournament in 2018 netted nearly $890,000 after expenses. The boys’ hockey tournament that winter took in $1.3 million more than expenses.

High school football and volleyball were moved from the fall to a new season starting in March that will push back the traditional spring sports season to a May start. Soccer, cross-country, girls' tennis and girls' swimming and diving will start practice as scheduled on Aug. 17. Postseason play, or what the league calls "culmination events,'' remain undetermined for all sports.

The league’s task force also recommended developing a strategic marketing plan to generate financial support for league activities and fine arts.

At their meeting in July, board members acknowledged the challenge of asking schools to pay more. They also emphasized that they needed to act quickly because of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

The new push on schools to pay more comes after the league, in February, approved raising school annual membership fees to $160, up from $120, for the 2020-21 school year. In addition, the fee that schools pay the league per activity also rose from $120 to $160. And schools were to be charged $1 per student enrolled, adjusted for free- and reduced-lunch numbers.

The effect of those activity fee increases on individual students and families was left for schools to decide.

In another financially related move, the league approved dropping printed state tournament programs in favor of “online souvenir’’ programs starting this year. League staff also is looking into options for providing printed rosters for sale to fans at the events.

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