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