John's Journal
Football Needs To Be Fixed, And Here’s Why1/19/2011
When the MSHSL board of directors meets on Monday here at MSHSL World Headquarters, the routine will be the same as for all board meetings. The Pledge of Allegiance will be recited … the minutes of the previous meeting will be approved … reports will be made by board members and committees, etc. It will be business as usual.

The agenda includes several categories and encompasses 15 separate items; some for discussion, some for information purposes and some for action by the board. Among the agenda listings is “Action Item D: Concept for Football Tournament Format.”

For real-world purposes, however, it could be called “It’s Time To Fix Football.”

I’ve been writing about high school activities in Minnesota for a long time. I joined the MSHSL staff 10 months ago after spending nearly 20 years working in the sports department at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Over the years, I have been asked the same question many times: “What’s your favorite high school sport?”

The first answer is always the same: “I love ‘em all, because they all offer something different and they all are fun.” Sometimes I will spin the original question a tick or two and respond with something like this: “For pure theater, for enjoying a total, wonderful scene that goes beyond the playing field, Friday night football games are my favorite event.”

For those of you who follow football closely, you have noticed some changes in recent years. It began with a high-profile Twin Cities story as the Classic Lake Conference fell apart. Then the dominos began to fall. The Lake Conference disbanded. There was shuffling in the Missota Conference and the Wright County Conference. The dominos continue to fall in the metro area as well as all around Minnesota.

Schools from Duluth have been placed in the Mississippi 8 Conference. The new Granite Ridge Conference will begin play next fall … and those schools all came from other conferences. Almost everywhere you look in our state, conferences are in jeopardy. If it hasn’t happened in your conference, just wait because it probably will.

As I travel around Minnesota, I often ask football coaches and athletic directors about their football issues. More and more, they are having trouble filling their schedules. This isn’t just happening with giant metro schools, but with midsized and small schools, too.

That’s why football needs to be fixed. It’s the elephant in the room, sitting on your coffee table and crushing it. It can’t be ignored any longer. If football didn’t exist, conferences wouldn’t be crumbling. But football is the problem and it’s hurting every other sport and activity as it sinks conferences.

The MSHSL does not have the power to create, shape or form conferences. It can place schools into conferences when they have run out of options, but that’s all it can do. So, where do we go from here?

Two words: Section football.

It makes too much sense to pretend that it’s not the answer. Yes, it will change some traditions, because longtime rivalries might fade. It might not be the best answer for your individual school or even your conference, but try to think about Minnesota high school football from a broader perspective. Right now, the sport is being chewed away at the corners. Section football will end those problems before more damage can be done. And remember, just because your school doesn’t have problems right now doesn’t mean those problems aren’t turning the corner and coming your way.

This issue has been discussed at length. Football coaches have met to come up with solutions; athletic directors have done the same. The MSHSL board has been listening to football concerns for years.

Many states have section football with great success. It could work like this: Each school would be assigned to a football section with approximately seven other teams. Playing each section opponent would mean seven games, leaving one non-section game to be scheduled. Again, some conference traditions would be disrupted. Some teams may have to travel farther under section football, but the longest trips would only be made every other year.

In addition to being a scheduling solution, section football also could lead to a new playoff structure. One of the biggest concerns with the football playoffs are section quarterfinal games between teams seeded No.1 and No. 8. The No. 8 seeds have virtually no chance of winning those games (there were two forfeits last season), and many question if they should be played at all. Sections standings could determine playoff seedings, and maybe only the top four or six teams in each section would advance to the postseason. Teams that do not qualify for the playoffs could schedule an additional game against a team in the same boat.

The MSHSL board members will once again discuss the football situation on Monday. They may take no action, they may approve subtle adjustments, they may approve wholesale changes in the football format.

This much is clear: something has to be done. Because as football continues to flounder, it will take other sports and activities – not to mention conferences -- down with it.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 320
*Miles John has driven: 6,811

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Talk Fast, State The Facts And Make Your Argument1/14/2011
Thestatedebatetournamentisaveryuniqueeventbutdescribingitcanbedifficult.

The previous sentence was written in the format used by students who compete in the state debate tournament. I visited this competition for the first time on Friday, and I was amazed at how quickly the competitors speak. That’s because they want to provide as much information for the judges in the time allowed, and talking slowly would simply be a waste of time.

Here’s that opening sentence again, presented at normal speed: The state debate tournament is a very unique event but describing it can be difficult.

The debate tournament was held in classrooms at Blegen Hall on the University of Minnesota campus. And I’ll be honest: I had a very hard time understanding what was being said in both divisions of the state tournament. The Policy Debate division consists of two-person teams, while Lincoln-Douglas is a one vs. one format. I don’t know if one in 10 words was understandable to me, so I would make a very bad judge. I was amazed at the judges’ ability to understand what was being said. But the judges and competitors work so hard at this activity that I’m sure they become accustomed to the rapid-fire pace.

This year’s Lincoln-Douglas debate topic is “Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.”

The topic for Policy Debate is “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reduce its military and/or police presence in one or more of the following: South Korea, Japan, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey.”

I sat in on several sessions Friday. There were four rounds of debates Friday, with two more rounds on Saturday before the quarterfinalists are determined. Then come semifinals and finals.

Here are few observations, jotted down in my notebook …

--I heard references to “The Colbert Report” and “Star Wars.”

--Some students were dressed to the nines. I saw males in black suits and red ties (perfect for a courtroom) and females in very nice dresses. I also saw competitors wearing jeans, hoodies and tennis shoes. My impression? The arguments you make are far more important than how you look.

--Timing is everything. Every competitor and judge carries a small timer or uses a stopwatch application on their cell phone. Each segment of each debate is under a time frame. It was interesting to hear five timers/stopwatches beep at once when a time limit was reached.

--Everybody also had a laptop computer. I was told that not long ago the students hauled around large boxes of files, with all the necessary information available at their fingertips. It’s still at their fingertips, but it’s now stored inside computers and flash drives. But some students still had plastic containers that carried information on paper.

--There isn’t much of a spectator aspect to debate, at least in the preliminary rounds. At the state speech tournament, many classrooms are overloaded with spectators. That was not the case Friday. Other than the debaters and judges, there were one or two other people in the room. During one debate, a sleepy spectator sprawled out on the floor and took a nap.

--There is a lot of gasping for air. The students speak so rapidly that taking in oxygen seems like a waste of time. So they talk as quickly as possible, pause just long enough to gulp in some air and continue with the machine-gun style of speaking.

--Between rounds, students and their coaches met in the hallways, talking strategy and how to handle upcoming rounds. Pizza was available for sale. A lounge for the judges offered snacks, box lunches and soft drinks (including my favorite beverage).

--A question I jotted down: “How much time is spent on researching the facts of the topic and how much time is spent on perfecting the rapid style of speaking?”

--I was never involved in debate when I was in high school. One of our teachers was interested in starting a debate team, and on a Saturday he convinced me and three other students to travel with him to a debate tournament about 30 miles away. We watched, we observed, we took everything in. As soon as we walked out of the school where the tournament was held, my buddies agreed with what I was saying in my head: “I’m not nearly smart enough to do that.”

Yes,debateisaveryimpressiveevent.

Diet Coke Count: 2

(To see more photos, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.)

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 320
*Miles John has driven: 6,811

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
An Entertaining Day With School Board Members1/13/2011
The MSHSL staff spent Thursday away from World Headquarters and gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center for the Minnesota School Boards Association’s 90th annual Leadership Conference. Part of our mission was having fun with school board members from around the state, as well as informing the members about current MSHSL topics.

The morning was spent in a roomy corner of the convention center, where MSHSL staffers set up several athletic activities in which school board members could test their skills. There was a softball throw, basketball field-goal shooting, hockey puck shooting and golf putting. Lots of school board reps tried their hand at the games, and those with the best scores returned to the area for a championship round in the early afternoon.

After the finals, trophies were awarded to the top three finishers (with men’s and women’s divisions) in each game. It was a lot of fun for all of us.

Later in the afternoon two sessions were held in a meeting room, with MSHSL staff informing the school board members on what’s currently taking place with the League. Executive director Dave Stead, associate directors Kevin Merkle, Jody Redman, Lisa Lissimore and Craig Perry, as well as myself, talked about things like eligibility, coaching certification, Anyone Can Save A Life, the Excel, Triple A and other awards and possible changes to the football playoff structure. I spoke about my duties, including the Student Sports Information Directors program.

Board member asked lots of good questions and hopefully the answers were valuable. This is an annual event for the MSHSL, and everyone looks forward to it.

--Looking ahead, the state debate tournament will be held Friday and Saturday at the University of Minnesota. I am excited about attending this important event for the first time, and I’ll post a report on the event Friday evening.
Television History … Was Not Made At Roseville1/12/2011
I knew Tuesday was going to be an entertaining evening as soon as I reached the broadcast location at Roseville High School and saw a Diet Coke, sitting in ice and just waiting for me to crack it open.

Setting the scene: professional broadcaster Jerry Otto Jr. and the professional crew from CTV Channel 15, hampered throughout a boys’ basketball game by a rookie analyst who offered insightful analysis along the lines of “Gee, that was a nice play” and “He went up strong on that shot” and “This one is for all the Tostitos.”

OK, I didn’t use the Tostitos line (Brent Musberger wishes he could say the same thing) during the cablecast of the game between Park and Roseville. I had a great time; that much is for certain. Whether I offered much in the way of expert commentary … that answer is pretty certain, too. I had a great time, though.

The game was not close, with Roseville winning 74-34. The Raiders are a very good team, worthy of a top 10 ranking in Class 4A (which I did mention during the broadcast). They have good size, they hustle and they have a strong array of outside shooters.

One of their bench players is a 5-foot-8 eighth-grade guard who is the son of coach Ted Critchley and the grandson of assistant coach Tom Critchley Sr. This is, of course, a basketball family, so it should probably be no surprise that the eighth-grader’s name is Kobe Critchley. I made an on-air crack wondering if he had a brother named Shaq, and that was about the extent of my humorous remarks.

Jerry and I sat above the bleachers in a balcony. This offered a much better view of the game than had we been seated at courtside. We sat on folding chairs at a card table … no, this isn’t exactly ESPN. CTV 15 broadcasts a lot of high school sports, and the schedule right now is filled with basketball, hockey and gymnastics.

The halftime score was 40-13 and the second half was little more than running time and a “name the final score” type of proposition. So the conversation between Jerry and I (Jerry's the good-looking guy in the hat) veered away from basketball at times. He asked me about my job duties here at MSHSL World Headquarters, how many Diet Cokes I threw down during the Prep Bowl, etc. The game was officiated by the veteran two-man crew of Brad Panning and Scott Hill, so we talked about two-man vs. three-man crews.

I took my last sip of the Diet Coke (it was a big one, too, a 24-ouncer) as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Jerry thanked me for joining him, and then he signed off.

It was a great night for television. My face never appeared on camera once. Smart decision.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 316
*Miles John has driven: 6,769

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
A Rookie Hoops Analyst Prepares For His Debut1/10/2011
I have been on television several times, but always in short bursts. The usual stint for me is something along the lines of a halftime interview during the Prep Bowl (which happened in November) or a few seconds of me chattering on camera about some high school activities issue.

Well, a dumb fox is about to wander into a henhouse filled with smart chickens. I have been invited to work as a guest television analyst during play-by-play coverage of a boys’ basketball game Tuesday night, and I’m smart enough to know that I’m not nearly smart enough to be good at this gig. But I’m also smart enough to know that trying new things can be exciting … if not pretty.

This isn’t a national telecast (how frightening would that be … I mean, for the viewers?) This telecast of a game between Park and Roseville will be shown on CTV Channel 15, which is part of a non-profit community access organization operated by the North Suburban Access Corporation and representing the cities of Arden Hills, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, Little Canada, Mounds View, New Brighton, North Oaks, Roseville, St. Anthony and Shoreview.

The guy leading the on-air rodeo will be Jerry Otto Jr. I have known Jerry for a long time and he is a first-rate broadcaster. He will handle the play-by-play duties and I will do my impersonation of the lead character in “The King’s Speech” (if you don’t know what that movie is about, go to the Google).

A couple weeks ago, Jerry had asked if I would be interested in doing some color commentary during a game. Thinking he was clearly desperate, I said “Sure!” Jerry phoned me Sunday afternoon with the invitation to work during Tuesday night’s game at Roseville. I’m happy to do it, because Jerry is as good as they come and I’m sure he will carry me on his back.

In the meantime, I’m doing some prep work; looking at rosters, statistics, etc. In a nice stroke of luck, I saw Roseville play Saturday in the Timberwolves Shootout at Target Center. So I’ve got that going for me.

In order to gauge the fan base for this epic television experiment, here is what I will do: Once the game starts (meaning after the opening tipoff), the first person to bring a Diet Coke (preferably cold and unopened) to me at my broadcast location will receive a nice gift.

And I’ll see if I can find a volunteer to shoot some photos of Jerry and John during the broadcast. This moment needs to be recorded for posterity ... or something like that.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 314
*Miles John has driven: 6,745

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn