Football, volleyball still could return

High school league leaves open the possibility of fall seasons for the two sports

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The Willmar football team lines up for offensive drills during practice Tuesday at Willmar High School. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

BROOKLYN PARK — The final whistle hasn’t been blown on high school football and volleyball across Minnesota just yet.

During its workshop Tuesday, the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors reviewed the previous decision to move football and volleyball to the spring as part of a three-hour, 50-minute meeting.

Board President Blaine Novak can call for a special meeting to vote on reinstating football and volleyball in the fall. A three-day notice is required and was not issued when the West Central Tribune went to press. Prior to any special meeting, surveys will be sent to members schools. The next scheduled board meeting is Oct. 1.

“That’s all we ask for,” Willmar head football coach Jon Konold said about a potential special meeting. “The kids have been working hard all summer and preparing. When you don’t have that in front of you, your emotions are a roller-coaster with everything. That’s all we wanted was to have a chance, give the kids a chance and we’ll take it from there.

“Hopefully we have a good outcome with the vote.”


On Aug. 4, football was moved to a six-game season from mid-March to mid-May by a 13-5 vote after playing in the fall failed with a 12-6 margin. Volleyball was also put in the March-through-May “fourth season” with an 11-7 vote after the vote to play in the fall failed, 10-8.

If the two sports are moved back to the fall, football is looking at having practices start on Sept. 21 and games on Oct. 2. With a delay due to a six-week club team schedule, volleyball would begin on Oct. 12 with matches starting on Oct. 22.

Most states are playing

As of Tuesday, Minnesota is one of 19 states, along with Washington D.C., that will not have a fall football season. The list includes: California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Hawaii; Illinois; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Nevada; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; Oregon; Rhode Island; Vermont; Virginia; and Washington. Illinois reaffirmed its decision to keep football on a late-winter 2021 schedule on Tuesday.

If Minnesota returns football and volleyball to the fall, it won’t be without precedent. Michigan was slated to have football in the spring before being reinstated in the fall by the Michigan High School Athletic Association on Sept. 3. And like Minnesota, Colorado is also looking at reinstating fall football.

All four states sharing a border with Minnesota — Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota — are playing football this fall. Wisconsin is scheduled to begin football on Sept. 23 while Iowa and the Dakotas are already underway.

“To see football around us has impacted how our coaches feel,” said MSHSL Associate Director Bob Madison. “With Michigan’s decision, it has impacted where they are. … We have played under two weeks in the past when we had a facility issue for the Prep Bowl.”

Madison added, “Football players are saying, ‘Why not us?’ I believe our student-athletes have the best opportunity in our schools.”

New London-Spicer activities director John Vraa sits on the board of directors. He said in Tuesday’s meeting that he’s surveyed more than 50 schools, with 43 responses from schools in west-central Minnesota. The majority want to have football in the fall.


“There are some assurances they want, too, like a full season that can be played and a pretty robust postseason in that fall season.” Vraa said.

Vraa brought up concerns with football and volleyball players that took up other fall sports and their status, along with issues regarding crowd control and ticketing.

“The main takeaway from the conversations you have is what sounds like a good solution, it seems (like) another roadblock comes up that all of a sudden doesn’t seem like a good solution anymore,” Vraa said.

The league’s Return to Play committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday.

Effects of COVID-19

Early in Tuesday’s workshop, representatives from the Minnesota Department of Health updated the board on COVID-19 numbers around the state.

  • Football and weight training were combined due to a lack of football games in the summer. In total, there were five outbreaks, with three-to-seven cases per outbreak.

  • Volleyball had four outbreaks, with 2-to-4 cases per outbreak and all within team transmission. The data was compiled with college-aged athletes.

A study was also conducted with 348 schools, with 1,248 combined fall teams, reporting that 199 teams — 16 percent — were affected by the coronavirus. That includes having athletes that tested positive, students that sat out due to close contact, missing practices or missing games. The goal is to collect data every two weeks.
The rates in each sport:

  • Boys cross-country: 11 percent; girls cross-country: 8 percent

  • Boys soccer: 22 percent; girls soccer: 23 percent

  • Girls swim and dive: 20 percent

  • Girls tennis: 20 percent

“The sports that have closer contact and high levels of exertion are going to be riskier than those that are practiced more individually or without contact because of the nature of the way this virus is transmitted,” said senior epidemiologist Jayne Griffith. “(It is) most efficiently transmitted with close contact. If someone is breathing heavily, yelling or exerting themselves, they’re able to generate and disperse particles into the airspace.”
MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff added, “It comes down to risk and how much risk you’re willing to take. Outdoors is safer, less contact is safer, masking is safer. Nothing is 100 percent safe.”

Related Topics: LOCAL SPORTS
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