Early reactions to district football
On Jan. 23, the Minnesota State High School League voted in favor of changing football’s regular-season scheduling statewide to a concept called district football.
Starting with the 2015 season, member schools will be divided into districts of 16 or more based on geographic proximity and and like enrollments. Schools within the districts will establish their own sub-districts or conferences to determine their schedules. The minimum numbers of schools per district is 10.
Rush City head football coach Paul Kirby said what the MSHSL proposed is nearly identical to the system that Rush City belongs to now.
The Great Polar Football Alliance currently has 17 teams, which is divided into three conferences within the alliance ranging from Class A-AAA schools. Kirby said that over the course of the past two years, the GPFA has fine-tuned its system, and he hopes it stays as is.
In the alliance’s fall meeting during the first week of November, Kirby said the representatives from each member school decided to ask the MSHSL Board of Directors via email to leave its current system in place.
“Our Great Polar Football Alliance is kind of the model of this district thing, so we petitioned the MSHSL to leave us alone, since essentially what we’ve been doing is what they have recommended,” Kirby said. “Us coaches and the ADs get along pretty well and we maintain a competitive balance.”
Kirby said that if a change does come, there is no telling yet which teams will be moving.
“It’s hard to predict,” Kirby said. “We’re the southern-most team on the interstate so it might affect us first if there is a change, but who knows. We’re a little concerned about being pushed west toward Foley or Milaca, or even being pushed south toward Brooklyn Park and Park Center—it all depends on where the circles lie. I think ‘nobody is safe’ is probably a fair statement.”
The head coach added that while he hopes the structure of the GPFA doesn’t change, he understands the need to resolve scheduling issues in other regions statewide.
North Branch Activities Director Brett Carlson said there are a few scenarios the Vikings could be facing with the change, given how much the team already travels in each direction for regular and post-season games.
While North Branch historically competes further south for section play, such as St. Paul Harding, they face northern teams during the regular season such as Duluth Denfeld and Duluth East; both join the Mississippi 8 schools for a total of 11 opponents for the Vikings.
Since North Branch recently moved to its current conference after competing in the North Suburban Conference, Carlson echoed Kirby’s wish for no change.
“I hope they can keep the Mississippi 8 as intact as best they can,” he said. “It fits the model of what a district should look like, geographically and enrollment-wise. I know a lot of other states already use district football, and it makes sense in terms of every kid being able to play eight games.”
The activities director isn’t concerned about keeping North Branch’s traditional rivalries with Chisago Lakes, St. Francis or Cambridge-Isanti on the schedule.
“I’m not super worried about it,” Carlson said. “I don’t think anybody at the high school league will intentionally split up those rivalries, plus all you have to do is look at the pins on the map. It’s not hard to put us with those folks geographically. But it will be interesting, that’s for sure.”