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Prep football in Minnesota could see early start in 2015

 By Louie St. George III

Duluth News Tribune

Duluth Denfeld’s Ben Halverson (43) rushes the ball against Hermantown’s Paul Glowacki during a 7AAAA section semifinal game Oct. 26, 2013, in Hermantown. (2013 file, Clint Austin / News Tribune)

At long last, it appears the 2015 prep football season is about to be solidified.

The Minnesota State High School League’s board of directors will meet Thursday and, after months of wrangling, are likely to finalize a 2015 slate that would end two weeks earlier than normal.

But how?

First, teams would begin practicing one week earlier, on Aug. 10. Then, one of two scenarios would be utilized to make up for the second week: all but scrapping preseason scrimmages in favor of starting games on Aug. 22, or shrinking the playoffs by one round, a move that would mean only four teams per section advance to the postseason.

“The coaches don’t like that option,” Kevin Merkle of the MSHSL said Tuesday. “Some of them feel strongly that every team makes the playoffs.”

Thus, the likely outcome from Thursday’s meeting is that practice will commence Aug. 10, with games to follow two weeks later, meaning teams would play three times before Labor Day instead of once. In 2015, Labor Day falls on Sept. 7, the latest possible date for the holiday.

All of this, of course, is spurred by the destruction of the Metrodome and the unavailability of the Vikings’ new stadium until 2016. The next two Prep Bowls will be played at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium. Next fall, the Prep Bowl will take place one week earlier than normal — just one week between the semifinals and finals, as opposed to the occasional calendar quirk that necessitates a two-week layoff, is the only difference in 2014.

In 2015, it’s bumped up two weeks, to Nov. 13-14, because of conflicts with the Gophers’ schedule.

There are a number of concerns with starting the season so early. Chief among them are shrinking summers for student-athletes, reduced attendance and playing games amid oppressive heat. The heat issue essentially was a moot point as the first week of games merely will replace the full-contact scrimmages, which often had players under the mid-day sun for up to four hours at a time.

Merkle was quick to point out that all of these problems are only temporary. When the Vikings’ stadium opens in 2016 — the recent legal challenges that are threatening to delay construction notwithstanding — it will be back to business as usual.

  Another item on Thursday’s meeting agenda doesn’t seem quite so cut and dried. The issue of regular-season football scheduling continues to perplex the MSHSL, as well as coaches and athletic directors. Larger schools have struggled to find eight in-state opponents, leaving some to play only seven games or travel significant distances to round out their slate.

District scheduling — lumping similar-sized and geographically relevant schools — has gained some traction, but questions remain.

A vote is scheduled Thursday, but it could be tabled.

“It’s quite controversial,” Merkle said.


While Lakeview Christian Academy’s Bjorn Broman is averaging better than 40 points per game this season, he’s also closing in on 1,000 career assists. Just a junior, Broman has an excellent chance to chase down the state’s all-time leader in that statistical category — Ellsworth’s Cody Schilling, who graduated in 2008 with 1,135 assists.

  North Woods senior Darby Youngstrom surpassed 2,500 career points in a loss to Mountain Iron-Buhl on Jan. 16.

  Hermantown boys hockey coach Bruce Plante recently notched his 450th career victory. Plante was at 453 entering Tuesday’s home game against Proctor.

  Barnum retired the No. 40 jersey of 1976 graduate Ron Metso on Friday night. Metso, the first Bomber to receive the honor, starred on the basketball court at Barnum before playing four years at Minnesota Duluth. He passed away in July 2012.