Everything you’ve come to count on about high school football in Minnesota is about to change.
Conferences are gone. District football is the new scheduling model, putting each of the state’s 373 football programs in one of 16 districts. Teams will compete for sub-district titles such as Southwest East, Mid State Sub 2 and Suburban White.
The Prep Bowl, every program’s top prize, will be held Nov. 13-14, two weeks earlier than normal because of scheduling conflicts at TCF Bank Stadium. That meant starting the season earlier to ensure teams a full regular- season schedule and a postseason opportunity.
Practice kicked off Monday and required coaches to adjust their plans. National safety guidelines led to eliminating two-a-day practices on consecutive days. Another time crunch: The first games are played on Saturday, Aug. 22 — about a week sooner than normal and in lieu of traditional scrimmages.
Talk about a hurry-up offense.
Oh, and a late Labor Day (Sept. 7) means most teams will play three games before school starts.
Fear not, touchdowns are still worth six points and the ball remains oblong.
“It’s unique, that’s for sure,” said Dave Nelson, Minnetonka’s coach and a 38-year veteran of the high school sidelines. Preparing for the season, he added, “took a lot of planning and talking to our coaches. But for us, I think it’s been pretty seamless.”
Nelson’s Skippers will compete in the West Metro South sub-district along with former Lake Conference teams Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins and Wayzata. They also face Champlin Park, Prior Lake, Shakopee and Maple Grove, a slate of games Nelson considers tougher than any faced by one of his teams.
To prepare, Nelson and his assistant coaches researched the ideas for maximizing returns on walk-through practices. Sharpening players’ minds even if they can’t use their bodies as often, Nelson said, is critical.
So is special teams.
“We’re making sure to stress the kicking game from Day 1,” Nelson said. “You can’t put anything off.”
Reaching the Prep Bowl, which Minnetonka last accomplished in 2012, will look different for the 32 metro-area teams in Class 6A as well. Each team still receives a No. 1-8 seed in one of four sections. But then, the teams are matched up in an overall bracket randomly chosen by the league.
Under the new model, a team’s path from quarterfinals to the championship game is set, thereby eliminating the “crossover” concept for the next round and the need to reseed for the state tournament.
In 2016, the state tournament semifinals and Prep Bowl move into U.S. Bank Stadium, a return to normalcy that will make much of this fall’s upheaval just a football footnote.
“It’s a unique year but I think it’s for the best,” said Brainerd coach Ron Stolski, starting his 55th season as a football coach. “We, as coaches, worked with the league and voted, and I think the kids will have a good experience.”