The Minnesota State High School League gave two fall sports the boot to early spring due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The league's board of directors met virtually for roughly five hours Aug. 4, and voted to move both football and volleyball. Football will likely start a week after the boys basketball season ends, while volleyball could start the week after girls basketball.
Those seasons are expected to run through the second week of May. Regular spring sports won't start until volleyball and football are completed, and go through the first week of July. That will be considered the MSHSL's fourth season.
"The start dates for season three (football and volleyball) and the fourth season (traditional spring sports) have not yet been determined," said Prior Lake Athletic Director Russ Reetz, a league board member. "It was a very difficult day. The return to play process was a winding road with many twists and turns."
Soccer, cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming will begin Aug. 17, as scheduled. But those seasons will be reduced and have limitations.
The board also voted to allow spring teams to practice together this fall, as well as football and volleyball squads. Spring sports were canceled earlier this year due to the pandemic.
"I was going through the various scenarios over the past couple of weeks, and this exact model was not what I thought would be the final decision," Jordan Athletic Director Joe Perkl said. "However, seeing it I do believe it is our best option at this time."
Prior Lake volleyball coach Mike Dean said he appreciates the time and effort by the MSHSL to ensure students have the opportunity to compete.
"These were not easy decisions being made, and they will be second guessed by many in the coming days and months," Dean said.
Football will have a 12-week season with six games. Game dates are not locked in yet. But there will be no scrimmages, all games will be local and playoffs and state play are to be determined.
Minnesota is the ninth state to delay its high school football season.
Burnsville football coach Vince Varpness said it will be different playing in the spring, but he's happy the seniors will get their final season.
"Hopefully by then, they would be able to have fans at the games as well," Varpness said. "It will be a tough job for athletic directors to schedule facilities, especially practice time for all the various teams, but they will find a way to make it work.
"It's nice that the high school league is inserting it between sports, so athletes will be able to play multiple sports," Varpness added.
The league did vote on the football and volleyball seasons to start in the fall as scheduled, but both motions failed. Football was voted down in a 12-6 vote. The first volleyball vote was 9-9, but after more discussion it failed 11-7.
Volleyball's reduced season will include no invitationals and only local play. Volleyball's other issue is competing with the Junior Olympic club programs that begin in January and end in June, and have many top high school players competing.
"Clearly the move to winter and spring creates some challenges, but it gives me hope for an actual high school season for our volleyball players," Dean said. "There are still challenges to be worked out with club teams and winter and spring sport conflicts, but this is something we will find solutions around.
"Allowing for fall practices is a creative way that the MSHSL has worked to find normalcy in this far from normal situation we are in," Dean added. "I’m hopeful that the decisions made will allow for all kids to play the games they love, while safely representing their schools and communities for the entire school year."
For cross country, soccer, tennis and swimming, there will by no invites, and a reduction in events and season length. Cross country can only compete with a maximum of three teams per event for a total of seven races.
Soccer's total game reduction will be reduced 30%, playing no more than two games per week. Soccer, tennis and swimming will have a maximum of 11 games/matches/meets.
There have been no decisions made regarding state tournaments for the remaining fall sports.
"It was perceived by the return to play task force that the fall sports that will have a chance to start on time had less of a chance of transmission during practices and competitions," Reetz said. "It will be vital for our soccer players, swimmers, tennis athletes and runners that they find ways to limit interactions, wear masks and stay home when possible.
"If they can commit to all the social distancing guidelines, they have a chance to get through the entire season healthy," Reetz added.
Perkl said regardless of the decisions made by the league some people will still be upset.
"I think the board did a good job of talking through each sport individually, and I appreciate that they didn't do a one-size-fits-all model," Perkl said. "A lot of unknown is ahead of us, but this decision gives each sport the best chance to have a season. Now we need to make some local decisions as far as lower levels, middle school, and fine arts."
Varpness said strong leadership is required to make these difficult decisions, and to do what is necessary and not what's popular. He feels the MSHSL has done that.
"It's a great teachable moment for our kids," Varpness said. "Life is going to throw you curve balls. You have to be able to change to the times, reevaluate and adjust to keep focused on your end goal in life."