Last chance

Last chance

For as long as anyone can remember, the preseason goals for most high school football programs were the same. And they usually started with winning a conference title.

That was job one and it will soon be out the window. This season will be the last time anyone can win a conference title in Minnesota for the foreseeable future.

Conferences are out after 2014. Districts are in.

That was a decision made by the Minnesota State High School League last May.

St. Cloud Technical High School football players take the field Friday to play Apollo High School at Michie Field in St. Cloud.
(Photo: Jason Wachter, jwachter@stcloudtimes.com)

What it means to the average fan is this is the last time (your school here) competes for conference hardware and (your favorite player’s name here) can earn all-conference honors.

In its place will be something that does a few good things.

Districts have been set up around the state and include somewhere between 12-28 teams. And while teams placed in districts will be similar in size, they won’t necessarily be in the same class.

The good stuff:

  1. Everyone everywhere will have a full, eight-game schedule played roughly on the same dates in the same week. Zero-week scheduling won’t happen. You won’t have to travel crazy distances, leave the state or — in the case of Eden Prairie a few years ago — leave the country.
  2. For the most part, local rivalries will remain and postseason playoff sections will not change. Playoff sections will still be aligned by computer with oversight by the high school league.

Districts will be scheduled by administrators much like conferences are now. In fact, a lot of district schedules are going to look an awful lot like conference schedules now.

Coming in 2015

Area administrators have worked over the summer to put together schedules for the 2015 and ’16. Area coaches are bracing themselves for changes, but for the most part, everybody is on board and looking forward to it.

Coaches in the Central Lakes Conference went to a two-division format last season that seemed to solve all the issues that plagued the CLC for the past decade.

Everyone in each division plays a similar schedule with the same number of games, something that didn’t happen until last year. A team could win the conference title without playing one of the top teams, which happened several times.

“It’ll be interesting to see how everything plays out once the high school league gets through with it,” Tech head coach Gregg Martig said of district scheduling. “Last year, turned out to be a nice arrangement (in the Central Lakes).”

The CLC’s issues were a microcosm of what was going on around the state and what districts should help minimize.

“The conference thing for me is we finally had a really good system in place,” Apollo head coach Justin Skaalerud said. “I understand why this all went into place. I thought it (the 2013 Central Lakes divisions) went really well.

“Fortunately, we found out that it’s going to be very similar to the sub-districts. It might end up being a semantics thing.”



Some change

District scheduling will be a little bit different for everyone.

For Central Lakes teams, the most noticeable absence will be Fergus Falls.

In the Granite Ridge Conference, Mora is headed north and east. Likely replacing the Mustangs will be New London-Spicer, a Prep Bowl team last season and a familiar foe to Granite Ridge teams like Albany and St. Cloud Cathedral.

Crusaders head coach Andy Auger, for one, isn’t too concerned about the conference stuff.

“For us, since I’ve been around, it’s never been about that,” Auger said. “We’re more about the section playoffs. ...

“It’s nice to be all-conference and win a conference championship, but it’s never been a huge priority for our program.”

Apollo fans cheer as their team takes the field to play Tech at Michie Field last year.
(Photo: Jason Wachter, jwachter@stcloudtimes.com)

For Central Minnesota Conference teams, there will be some changes. The conference’s smaller schools, like Kimball and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, are going to see some changes. Both are Class A teams.

“We’re going to drive a lot more,” Kimball head coach Joe Brennan said. “It’s a tough conference we play in. But it prepares us for the playoffs, which will be good.

“There are still some real good teams in our district. We’re going to benefit in playing similarly sized schools.”

The Cubs’ new district includes Prairie Valley (which is Parkers Prairie and Eagle Valley), Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Royalton, Upsala/Swanville Area, West Central, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Browerville.

No longer will Kimball play Class 3A schools like Pierz and Rockford. Brennan said he hopes the Cubs will be able to maintain their rivalry game with Eden Valley-Watkins in the future. Kimball and EV-W play annually in the Rooster Bowl with a traveling trophy going to the winner.

“I think it (district scheduling) is going to benefit us tremendously,” Brennan said. “We’re going to play schools our size and that, hopefully, will get the ball rolling for us as a program.”

That, of course, is the goal for everybody. Most coaches believe the new district system will be more fair competitively and travel-wise.

It also could be changed. It will be re-assessed and evaluated.

“I’m not seeing it as something that will affect us a great deal,” Sartell head coach Scott Hentges said.

In Sartell’s case, it just means that once or twice a season, the bus will point in a different direction for a long drive. Instead of Fergus Falls, for instance, the Sabres are likely headed to Grand Rapids.

It’s still up in the air whether districts will hand out all-district awards. It won’t be all-conference, though.

But like Skaalerud pointed out, it’s more semantics.

“Some things are still up in the air,” he said.