The Minnesota State High School League’s board of directors will hold a special meeting at 9 a.m. Monday to revisit, and possibly reverse, its Aug. 4 decision to shift the football and volleyball seasons to spring.
It was called by board President Blaine Novak, the New York Mills school superintendent, after a 3½-hour board workshop last Tuesday found considerable sentiment to revisit the Aug. 4 decision.
At stake: Whether football and volleyball, the state’s most popular high school sports by participation for boys and girls, resume for the fall season. If the board approves, it will likely do so for both sports.
If sports return for the fall: Football practices will most likely begin in late September with a limited game schedule beginning in the second week of October. For volleyball, it’s expected that practices would officially begin Oct. 12, to avoid conflict with club-sponsored fall leagues that drew hundreds of high school players. A shortened season would run into early December.
If the status quo remains: Football and volleyball will resume in March and run into May. That timeline is problematic for many volleyball players as those months are also the primary season for Junior Olympic club regional and national club tournaments. Minnesota has a thriving club volleyball scene, and it’s uncertain if the league would grant players waivers to compete in concurrent high school and club seasons.
Erich Martens, league executive director: With considerable influence on league decisions, his willingness to respect and listen to all sides of the issue has led to strong discourse among decision-makers.
Blaine Novak, league board president: Called for the special meeting ahead of the next scheduled board meeting on Oct. 1, possibly too late for getting a football season in with winter ahead.
Bob Madison, league associate director, includes football oversight: Comments during the workshop, stating that having athletes together in a school setting was the safest place to them, was a catalyst for the upcoming meeting.
Jody Redman, league associate director, includes volleyball oversight: Advocated for a starting date after Oct. 12, reflecting willingness to cooperate with local volleyball clubs currently in fall leagues.
Minnesota Department of Health: Shared concerns with board members last week about COVID-19 spread in sports activities, including football, seen as higher risk because of close contact. Its recommendations were at the heart of the Aug. 4 decision.
Minnesota Football Coaches Association: Executive Director Ron Stolski (retired), past President Dave Nelson (retired) and current president Chuck Ross (Underwood) met with league officials last week to propose re-evaluating the postponement in light of the current information available.
Let Them Play MN: Facebook group formed earlier this month to create support for a return to fall football. Has more than 18,000 members.
Cases for and against
Why the board will approve fall seasons: Minnesota is now the only state in the Upper Midwest not playing or preparing for football. With the Big Ten and the state of Michigan changing course to resume playing this fall, pressure is increasing to allow football if strong precautions against the spread of COVID are followed. Football generates revenue for schools and the league, which counts its state tournament as its second-biggest profit source behind boys’ hockey.
Why the board will stay with spring seasons: Despite momentum to reverse the decision, establishing strong safety protocols is a worry, as is the concern about securing venues and officials. Football and volleyball coaches have expressed concerns about, in the words of Owatonna football coach Jeff Williams, needing “a robust playoff system.” The league has indicated that traditional state tournaments for fall sports will be replaced by smaller “culmination events.”