Caleb Happel (center) is the backfield blocker as Matt Schleich (right) takes handoff from Keenan Siminski during the Lions’ 2013 conference championship run. PHOTO: JON SPELTZ/SPRING GROVE HERALD
Caleb Happel (center) is the backfield blocker as Matt Schleich (right) takes handoff from Keenan Siminski during the Lions’ 2013 conference championship run. PHOTO: JON SPELTZ/SPRING GROVE HERALD

    This is the second of two installments covering the changes to the regular season 9-man football schedules for Southeast Conference teams in 2014 (see first installment last week) and in 2015, 2016.

    A year from now in 2015, the new Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) district format will change the regular season for all high school football teams in the state.

    For several years, League staff, school administrators and football coaches have sought a solution for schools that have had difficulty filling their regular season football schedule. A committee of coaches, athletic administrators and Board members developed a District Football Scheduling System that was approved by the Board in January.

    The plan places all member schools with football programs into districts. The members of each district will divide the district into sub-districts and then create a full schedule for each team.

    The 71 Minnesota 9-man teams were divided into three districts - North, West and South. Enrollment, geography, like schools and current conference membership and current opponents were key criteria for placement.

    In advance, schools were given the opportunity to provide the committee with information such as three teams that they would like to remain on the schedule. Those requests were carefully reviewed and were granted to the extent possible. More than 90 percent of the schools' requests were met, and a significant majority of schools were placed in a district with most, if not all, of the schools that they now play.

    All nine current football members of the Southeast Conference (SEC) are in the 21-team South District. The athletic directors and/or coaches of each South District school met in Mankato on June 16 to divide their membership into sub-districts. The decision was to divide the 21 members into two sub-districts of 10 and 11 teams - Sub-District Red and Sub-District White.

    The odd 11-team number calls for scheduling a nine-week season with a zero week (bye) for one team each week. (See last week's installment)       The most geographically distant school, West Lutheran (in Plymouth just west of Minneapolis), volunteered to change sub-districts each season. The other teams would therefore alternate being in a more convenient 10-team configuration one season and the less convenient 11-team grouping the next.

    West Lutheran played its first-ever football game at Spring Grove in 2003, the Lions' season-opening 11-man victory that became a historic undefeated regular season culminating in the 9-man state semi-finals in the Metrodome.

    West Lutheran is the member school likely to be the most pleased with the new district format. Last year, the Warriors were not able to compete in a conference and had to play both 9-man and 11-man games to make up a seven-game schedule, one short of the desired eight games. Beginning in 2015, West Lutheran will be guaranteed a full slate of eight games against preferred 9-man competition.

    The nine current SEC football teams - Randolph (enrollment 137), Houston (111) Lyle/Pacelli (108), Spring Grove (93), Lanesboro (85), Grand Meadow (84), Mabel-Canton (75), Glenville-Emmons (72) and LeRoy-Ostrander (69) - will be joined in the new Sub-District Red by Alden-Conger (131 and member of the Southern Confederacy) and every other year by West Lutheran (139).

    Instead of competing for a conference championship, the teams will vie for a sub-district title. Luck of the draw will affect the race as there will be one or two teams that you do not play each year.

    There is a committee currently working on the first sub-district schedules for 2015 and 2016. Committee member Gary Sloan, athletic director and head football coach at Grand Meadow, said it is a formidable task striving to provide every team four home games and four away while preserving traditional rivalries. Their target date for completion of the 2015 slate is August 4, 2014.

    The MSHSL says schools should no longer have a reason to travel far out of state to find football opponents or play fewer than an eight-game regular season football schedule. In nearly all cases, the MSHSL feels placement of schools will not negatively affect traditional rivalries or preferred opponents.

    For SEC teams, already facing a schedule upheaval this season, it will be a second season of change in 2015. But the alterations affect only the regular season. The postseason will retain the current Section One eight-team playoff bracket followed by the state tournament.