Nearly four hours long, Tuesday's Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors workshop produced little resolution in terms of a plan for the 2020-21 calendar.
While discussion was back-and-forth on potentially starting up football and volleyball in October, a final decision will have to wait until a special session at 9 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 21.
A mandatory three-day waiting period is required.
With the next general assembly meeting set for Thursday, Oct. 1, multiple board members expressed that date was too late to make a decision on football being played this fall.
"I don’t know if there’s a right answer. I’m just searching for the rationale and the evidence to vote differently if that were to occur," said MSHSL Board vice president Tom Jerome, Roseau Superintendent.
"When we made the decision in August we made it with the best information we had. Has that information changed? Are there different things that could change our decision from Aug. 4?" MSHSL Board president Blaine Novak of New York Mills said.
LET THEM PLAY
A movement to let football and volleyball athletes on the field and court has garnered nearly 20,000 signatures on Change.org. While the State High School League acknowledged the petition, it had yet to come across the desk on Sept. 15.
Michigan, which originally postponed football from the fall season, is among a handful of states across the country that has changed its decision. That state will be the 26th to start football this fall.
By the end of September, 30 states will have high school football including Wisconsin (Sept. 23), Iowa, Nebraska, and South and North Dakota.
Eleven states have football start dates ranging from January to March, while Minnesota is one of seven states that have yet to announce a start date.
The petition, along with a lawsuit filed against the MSHSL on behalf of three high school athletes, claims the League violated its own rules by changing its bylaws.
"We know more, but we don't know significantly more," John Vraa, board member from New London-Spicer said. He surveyed 50 schools in west central Minnesota, with 43 responding, with the majority of coaches and athletic directors in favor of playing this fall.
With some assurances, which included a full season, and a robust post-season schedule.
Bob Madison, MSHSL Associate Director, relayed the Football Advisory Committee has always wanted to play in the fall season, even if that meant an abbreviated season. He points to a previous year where the Prep Bowl venue was unavailable and the season moved up two weeks.
Teams adjusted, and the advisory committee believes teams can be ready to go the first week of October.
"Football athletes ask 'why not us?' They understand the risk," said Madison, who shared a spike in COVID among high school athletes in mid-August was due to the fact that teams and administrators were doing their job, keeping tabs on players and responding when cases occurred.
While outstate board members shared views supporting a return-to-play, others such as Troy Stein of Edina High School and Russ Reetz of Prior Lake asked to hit the pause button.
Stein cautioned a "quick switch" from the August decision, wanting to get a better perspective of what unintended consequences may come about because of a haste decision.
Reetz, who echoed Stein's comments about not being opposed to fall football and volleyball, said he received 241 e-mails from 82 different communities in the last week. Many with the same message. If neighboring states can play, why can't Minnesota? If soccer can play, why not football?
"We haven't had much change since our Aug. 4 vote," Reetz said.
A special session can be called three days in advance, Novak said. While none was scheduled, the decision may come after the Return to Participation Committee meets Wednesday and a bi-weekly ADs meeting occurs Thursday.
"I want football to happen, but bringing it back in the fall creates issues that I don't think a lot of people are even looking at," board member Dustin Bosshart, principal and head football coach at St. Clair, said.
MSHSL Executive Director Jody Redman, speaking for the Volleyball Advisory Committee, also seemed eager to play still this fall. They envision a mid-October to early December season.
Redman shared some high school teams are currently playing a six-week club season. A move to spring for volleyball could create a mess between girls choosing to play for their high school team or their club team where they will get more exposure from colleges.
The advisory committee recommends allowing athletes to play both high school and club at the same time next spring if the sport is slotted in the March-May time frame.
"If we don't do something, club sports are going to take over and the MSHSL will be in trouble," said board member Bill Tauer of Tracy-Milroy-Balaton.
The most telling statement of the workshop came from Dan Huff, assistant commissioner and state epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health.
"It comes down to risk, and it’s how much risk that you’re willing to take under your watch," he said.
MDH's Jaybe Griffith shared data collected on high school-aged athletes from June 1 to Sept. 14. More than 400 cases of COVID were reported from a youth aged 15-to-18 that participated and attended a sports activity.
At least 52 cases were transmitted from AAU basketball tournaments, many stemming from out-of-state travel.
Other minor outbreaks occurred in hockey (13 outbreaks, 2-7 cases per outbreak), soccer (10 outbreaks, 2-5 cases per outbreak) and baseball/softball (five outbreaks, 2-3 cases per outbreak).
In volleyball, no high school-aged outbreaks were reported.
A closer look at data from member schools — 348 schools responded representing 1,248 teams — 199 teams or 16 percent of teams reported some effect from COVID. That could have meant an athlete testing positing, or an athlete sitting out a practice or game because of close contact to someone diagnosed with COVID.
Two hundred and thirty-five schools that responded were not affected.
While football and volleyball timelines are up in the air, the MSHSL acknowledged it is recommending a modified post-season schedule for boys and girls soccer, girls tennis, boys and girls cross country, and girls swimming and diving this fall.
All will host section tournaments, though tennis will be a team-event only — a full consolation bracket can be used by sections. Swimming and diving will use a timed final event with no preliminaries. Pods of four teams will compete against each other with fans unable to be present in pools located inside school buildings.
It will be the same with cross country as pods of four teams — a total of six runners per team, a maximum of 24, at the starting line.
No decision has been made on state tournaments.
"They looked at a culminating event," Waconia athletic director Jill Johnson said of the Return to Participation Task Force. "Something that is financially responsible and regionally geographic."
Full details on section plans will be released to region secretaries and meet managers by Sept. 18.