Change happens often in high school sports. The idea is to promote fairness while keeping the turnstiles spinning.
When I was a kid, the idea of "fairness" was to let the very small schools compete for the "sub-district" trophy because they might not have much hope after that. After a couple of wins against comparable-size schools, they'd come up against the inevitable barrier of a big school with its well-oiled program and numbers superiority.
"Hoosiers" was just in the movie. It was like winning the lottery. The associations that oversee these things decided that wasn't very fun.
We're headed into March Madness now in which our state's teams have quite the level playing field. You can't make a movie about it but it's fair. What we lose is the mass interest created by a small, easy to understand field of teams. I'm focusing on basketball here but let's shift to football.
Our Big Cat Stadium might seem like the most cold and desolate place in the world now. But our Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) is putting plenty of attention on football now. For one thing, they're considering the creation of a seventh class. A seventh class!
When I was a kid there were no post-season football playoffs. I did a post a few months ago in which I recalled Stan Kent, a 1960s football coach here, saying he didn't like the idea of playoffs. He said playing for the conference title was good enough.
"When you win the conference title, it really means something," he said.
He further explained that with the playoffs, a conference champion will end the season with a loss unless it's so fortunate as to win the state title. That's part of the deal with playoffs: Everyone ends with a loss except the champion. If you can accept that, it's OK.
Coach Kent was a little dubious. He didn't talk about the weather but he could have. The weather sure becomes a factor in late fall in Minnesota. It looks like the state High School League is thinking about this.
Not only do the playoffs end with a loss for most teams, they can end in a state of misery with winter-like conditions prevailing. That's what happened to Benson last fall. The Benson Braves came to our Big Cat Stadium under conditions that actually prompted me to call the school to see if there would be a postponement.
I was fully aware that football is played under nearly all conditions. I know that lightning is probably the only factor that can cause the field to be cleared.
But holy cow, the weather for the Morris vs. Benson playoff game was going to be abominable! There was a thumbs-up and I attended. Fortunately I have outerwear that might enable me to climb Mount Everest. I strongly recommend a "mad bomber" hat. Yes, that's the commonly accepted term. This and the proper liners go a long way toward protecting you in abominable conditions.
The weather threw everything at us it could. The game got played but I doubt anyone has fond memories. You can really feel the wind out there at Big Cat.
Big Cat Stadium was sold to us partly because it could be a venue for high-level post-season games. But right now it sounds like our High School League is trying to scale back the football post-season.
Have they gotten disheartened because of the potential for unpleasant weather (for the fans if not the players)? Do they feel the season just goes too long? Aren't the turnstiles spinning well enough? Is the current system a problem for teams that advance a long ways and then get hardly any preparation for winter sports?
The MSHSL in its most recent meeting suggested a big change in football section games and the playoffs. It's looking for feedback so get online if you wish. The board approved a motion that may mean a vote on a new playoff concept. That vote could be made on April 7.
A task force (shudder) has studied the issues. We now have a proposal called "section football." The MSHSL calls this a "marked departure."
Coach Kent might shudder because section football would replace conference football. Actually he might not shudder because the section concept would simply replace conference. They would in effect become the new conferences.
Teams would play regular season games mainly against teams in their section to determine champions. A team would have the breathing room to schedule one or two games outside of that.
There's another big departure: Classes would be defined in a different way, other than by just drawing lines according to school enrollment numbers. School size would still be the basic criterion. But there would be a designated number of teams in each class. An exemption would be made for nine-man.
Still another proposal would call for that seventh class. I had to laugh when reading about that. No one wants to be in with the truly elite programs like Cretin-Derham Hall or Eden Prairie. So the large schools that might end up with them are always clamoring for a new class to get separation.
I heard long ago that this explains the existence of the AAA class for basketball. The AAA schools are quite large but they want to be insulated from the biggest and baddest (as in good) programs. I also heard that attendance for AAA games was poor relative to other classes. The schools are too big to engender real grassroots "school spirit," but they don't have marquee status like Cretin-Derham Hall might. We all want to maximize the odds.
It's a far cry from the days when people didn't seem to care about giving an "equal shot" for everyone. The old concept of letting the small schools try for that "sub-district" trophy seems quaint now.
But maybe in the old days, people felt it really wasn't that important for kids to be tied up for so long in post-season athletics. Let a few elite teams do this, like Edina in basketball, while the vast majority of kids could get on with the other business in their lives. Maybe there was in fact some wisdom behind that.
You could argue we had the best of both worlds: Kids could emphasize their priorities and not get obsessed with sports, and an exclusive "upper crust" of teams could entertain us on TV. The top basketball teams (only boys of course) would play at Williams Arena, which was like a shrine in March. Sid Hartman certainly savored it.
It sounds like the MSHSL's proposed changes would mean a shortened post-season for football. There would simply be no section playoffs.
And this after Big Cat Stadium was sold to us as a playoff venue, attracting lots of people to town for these games. I would say Big Cat has had mixed success accomplishing this anyway. Last fall there was one weekend - I can't specify which exact one - when Big Cat would have seemed a prime candidate for hosting a playoff game (or games), but it didn't.
Big Cat was sure "sold" to us in a number of ways, along with the new elementary school. And of course the new elementary includes a lot more than just the elementary. We now have a truly sprawling campus and no one would argue that it isn't "nice." But is it all sustainable?
Will the numbers add up over the long-term future? What direction is the economy of this area headed? Years hence, will part of our public school campus be leased to private interests?
Instead of building a football stadium, why couldn't we have built a fine arts hub that would include the concert hall, that would be fully shared between the public school and UMM?
I have been told that the reason UMM doesn't arrange to use the concert hall more, is that UMM is still trying to sell "Humanities Phase III." The availability of the concert hall might put a damper on potential donors' enthusiasm, or so I'm told.
What folly! The good economic times made us so gluttonous. Well let me tell you, a new austere reality is setting in. Look at Wisconsin.
If Tom Emmer had gotten elected here in Minnesota, the Republicans could mount an overpowering charge like in Wisconsin. And it might be a very good thing!
Conquering the unions would create a landscape where state resources could be distributed more effectively.
Our Governor Mark Dayton is talking about eviscerating Health and Human Services. He has to apply the scalpel somewhere. And pigs will fly before he takes on any labor union. It'll be a mess.
We'll see heart-rending conflict in Minnesota before it's all over.
Anyone who has spent time on my website knows I'm generous when talking about Democrats, but I draw the line where public unions are concerned. Never in my life have I benefited from a union. I believe in advocating for "common folks" but I don't see unionism as synonymous with that - hardly. Unions are a very narrow special interest that are separated from reality.
Let's get on with the belt-tightening. And let's get on with March Madness!
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org