COVID-19's lasting impact on Minnesota high school sports was a significant topic of discussion this week for the high school league's board of directors, as was the case so often last year.
At the Minnesota State High School League's first official meeting of the 2021-22 school year on Tuesday in Spicer, Minn., two issues came to the forefront of the dialogue: masks and transfer rules.
Students who transferred schools during the pandemic and then transferred back to their original schools when the pandemic waned often ran afoul of the MSHSL's eligibility guidelines, which allow for one free transfer with any subsequent transfers requiring sitting out for an entire varsity season.
Many families complained, citing uncommon circumstances, and the board of directors asked the eligibility committee to study the issue and make a recommendation regarding any potential changes before the next board meeting Oct. 7.
"There are a lot of complexities to this issue," said board vice president Troy Stein, the Edina activities director. "Should the board consider some sort of pandemic transfer waiver, or should we stay the course?"
With the fall athletic season starting Aug. 16, Stein said it's important that the league resolve this issue quickly. "Some of these situations are potentially related to fall sports, so it's best to address this sooner than later," he said.
For all student-athletes, masks may again come with playing sports. Stein said the board is closely monitoring the growing number of mask mandates, but he added it is still in wait-and-see mode and seeking guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education.
"We'd also love input from our Sports Medicine Committee," Stein said. "If we do receive guidance, we're prepared to move quickly."
Masks were required for winter sports and at the beginning of the spring sports season last school year, but the MSHSL followed relaxed guidelines from the CDC and masks were not required by the season's end.
MSHSL Executive Director Erich Martens said the league is also looking elsewhere for guidance on mask requirements, including Tokyo.
"We look at the benefits and challenges and how do masks work within different activities," Martens said. "The Olympics are one place for that. You see a lot of masks, but not many of them during competition. We're looking for mitigation strategies beyond masks."
Schools' fees lowered
The league had some positive financial news to announce, saying it will be lowering the overall amount it charges member schools. The board approved a motion to reduce the projected membership dues by a total of $1.063 million dollars.
Martens said a number of factors went into this. "A lot of people worked very hard and we had better than expected revenues from the state tournaments," he said. "And the forgiveness of the PPP [Paycheck Protection Plan] loan helped out the final position."
The MSHSL had a projected budget of $5 million last year, a reduction of more than $4 million from the previous year. The league responded to the potential shortfall with significant dues increases, some as high as 300% from the previous year. Some schools balked at the large increase, but most eventually paid up, citing the benefits of league membership.
"This is certainly a positive from where we could have been," Martens said, "but we've still got a lot of work to do."
The board approved state tournament formats for cross-country and soccer, both of which are adding a third class this fall. Cross-country will run all six races — three boys, three girls — on Saturday, Nov. 6. Soccer will play all semifinals and championships at U.S. Bank Stadium, with third-place games at a different site. The format for the girls' volleyball state tournament, which is adding a fourth class, is still under discussion.