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High school football landscape changing in 2015

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One of the biggest changes in Minnesota high school football was set in motion Thursday when the Minnesota State High School League approved a measure that will alter the regular season for years to come.

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By a 19-1 vote, the MSHSL board of directors passed district scheduling for the 2015 season. The plan is to reorganize schools into groups of at least 10 so teams will have an easier time filling the eight-game schedule. According to MSHSL Media Specialist John Millea’s blog, the league hopes to have pods of “at least 16 or more schools whenever possible,” and that “schools in each district will work together to create schedules for each team.” Conferences, as currently known, will no longer exist in football.

The sport has dealt with scheduling issues around the state for some time, including large schools located in the Twin Cities and smaller schools located in areas with few similar schools within a reasonable driving distance.

What the decision means for local teams is up in the air, as are the final details regarding the district scheduling. A few familiar guidelines were described in Millea’s blog post leading up to the vote, including some section principles based on geography, student population and the possibility of change every two years.

But with so much yet to be set in stone, area coaches are left to wonder exactly what, if anything, will change about their particular schedules.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” said Cannon Falls head coach Josh Hofstedt. “For us, thinking selfishly, the size of school we are, we would have been pushed down to similar-sized schools (in the Southern Football Alliance). With districts, we might end up playing similar-sized schools. We’re within 20 minutes of several schools that are within single-digit kids.”

The SFA is an outlier when it comes to the future, mostly because the conference was created to lump schools of similar size into three divisions. Had that not happened, a school like Goodhue, with a MSHSL Competitive Section enrollment of 191, would have had to face at least one school with more than three times as many students.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the SFA,” sad Goodhue coach Tony Poncelet said. “Will it be the same? Will schools be added? The last couple of seasons we’ve had it all, zero weeks and byes, we’ve played our neighbors and travelled two hours (to Caledonia) … This year we averaged 77 miles one way on our schedule. We went to Caledonia, which is two hours away, Rushford (1 hour, 40 minutes), Spring Valley (1:20) and Adams (1:20), which got lightning and we had to go back the next day. And then we went to Fillmore Central for playoffs. The flip side of it is we were slated to play Kasson-Mantorville had we not done anything. So something had to be done.”

And like his area counterparts, Zumbrota-Mazeppa’s Willie Rauen hopes little is done in regard to the SFA.

“We switched over to the SFA this past year, so I’m hoping that when they align it not much will change,” Rauen said. “If it’s not that way, we’re kind of on the edge of being in Section 1 anyway, and the next two seasons we’re in Section 2. Which if they were going to do (more section scheduling), that would not be a good thing for us because the other schools (in Section 2AA) like Norwood Young America and Le Sueur-Henderson are a whole lot further away than Pine Island, Kenyon-Wanamingo and Dover-Eyota. So I hope when the MHSHSL looks into it, they consider that when they finalize what the groupings are.”

With so much done by the SFA to remedy the situation, what district scheduling does to Red Wing could be the bigger unknown. The Wingers begin play in the Big Nine Conference this fall, but which league teams remain on the schedule after 2014 is anyone’s guess.

Red Wing Activities Director Matt Schultz, who was the football coach for the past six seasons, declined to comment until more information was released on the move to district football.

The guidelines Millea listed included a 2-to-1 ratio for student population, which would keep the Big Nine schools on the schedule, but that could depend on geography with two Mankato schools also involved in the Big Nine.

On Friday, Millea posted that the decision on which schools make up each district is still a couple months away.

“A statewide committee will decide on district lineups in the spring, and they will be finalized by the MSHSL board of directors over the summer.

“Schools with football teams grouped into the same districts will be able to meet no later than August with a goal of finalizing football schedules for 2015 and 2016 by November 1.”

The 2015 season will see another change due to the availability to TCF Bank Stadium. The Prep Bowl, which usually takes place Thanksgiving Day weekend, will be moved up two weeks, which, in turn, bumps up the start of the season. Teams may begin practicing Aug. 10, 2015, with the Prep Bowl slated for Nov. 14-15, 2015.

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Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at kstevens@republican-eagle.com, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
(651) 301-7879
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