BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — There may be high school football and volleyball in Minnesota this fall after all.
The Minnesota State High School League called for a special meeting of the league’s board of directors for this upcoming Monday, Sept. 21, with the only item on the agenda in order to vote on reinstituting this year’s fall football and volleyball seasons.
The board of directors held a workshop Tuesday with representatives from the Minnesota Department of Health to learn about COVID-19 statistics, trends and the outlook for the future. The board spent nearly four hours discussing whether it would be safe to return football and volleyball back to the fall season rather than playing them in the spring, as they voted on earlier this fall.
Surrounding states North Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa are all playing football this fall. Michigan, which had originally opted not to play high school football this fall, has reversed course and will play.
“First and foremost, I think over the past several months we’ve learned that everything is fluid at all times throughout this pandemic,” Moorhead activities director Dean Haugo said. “Whether it’s the seasons going on presently in Minnesota — soccer, tennis, swimming, — or the ones that had been pushed back. We have to be ready to push forth with whatever they decide.”
So how’s it going to go? Will the board vote in favor of a fall season for football and volleyball? Haugo says he isn’t sure.
“That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?” Haugo said. “Sitting here four days away from the vote, I think it’s completely up in the air. I don’t think I would say 50-50, but I don’t know. I really think it is going to be a tough decision for the group that has to make it. What I’m appreciative of right now is that the high school league is soliciting information from everybody involved to make the best decision possible.”
Hawley activities director Brett Mayer Schmit said she thinks the main goal of the meeting is for the board to make everybody feel like their voices are being heard. But she isn’t so optimistic about the chances of a turnaround.
“On our end as administrators, we’ve heard the call from some of these parents groups to look into it,” Mayer Schmit said. “I think (the MSHSL board) had to give some response and this is their response. They want to give a voice to all of the complaints. I’m not anticipating a reversal, but I thought there was a good chance we would have fall sports when they voted last time and I was wrong about that.”
Football and volleyball teams across the state are currently practicing as part of a three-week window in which teams can hold 12 practice sessions that began Monday. So it wouldn’t take too long for those teams to get prepared for game action.
“Our football and volleyball teams are technically in season now,” Haugo said. “We’re in the midst of that fall training period. The volleyball team is in the gym right now as we speak and our football players will be showing up for practice in a little bit.”
“Our players and coaches are ready to go,” Mayer Schmit added.
But the bigger hurdle, according to the Hawley AD, will be on the administrative side. Schools will have to build schedules and find officials to work the games on short notice.
“And for volleyball, we have the issue of what it will look like in indoor spaces,” she said.
Haugo said he is ready to do the work to get his teams back to competition. He won’t have a problem putting together the schedule.
“We’re really uniquely positioned in Moorhead as an independent,” he said. “We are probably one of the most unique schools in that our schedule is always moving around more than schools that have a conference schedule. We’re more fluid than other schools. But that’s all just my side of it. Any challenges that I would have as an administrator will be more than worth it for the opportunities that would be presented.”
As far as exactly what that schedule might look like, both Haugo and Mayer Schmit said they anticipate the number of games will be reduced by 20% just like the fall sports currently happening. But even with that reduction in games, they anticipate the seasons will have to stretch later than normal and reach into December.
“With that later start, I think we definitely would see those seasons go later,” Haugo said. “But everything has been fluid since March and we will go along with whatever they decide.”
Returning football and volleyball to the fall could help normalize the season for spring sports. The initial plan laid out this fall was for football and volleyball to play in a “flex” season between the traditional winter and spring seasons, causing the spring season to last into July. Many, including Haugo, were not thrilled with the impact that would have on spring sport athletes who had their seasons canceled in the spring of 2020.
“This would be a serious blessing for our athletes in spring sports,” Haugo said. “That’s how I feel. But you may go to another community and they may feel differently.”
There still has not been a decision by the MSHSL regarding whether the sports currently being played this fall — cross country, soccer, girls tennis, and girls swimming and diving — would have a postseason. But Haugo anticipates an announcement should be coming soon.
“I think I can safely say that there will be a postseason,” he said. “But I will also say that what that looks like is yet to be finalized. We are working with the Minnesota Department of Health to make sure everything is conducted in the safest way possible. But I think there is a real appetite and desire for our teams to be able to play for something at the end of the year. What that looks like, I don’t know.”