At the very least, local high school activity directors are now used to the feeling of erasing work and starting over from scratch.
After throwing together a full fall sports schedule in a matter of weeks rather than months, and then watching COVID-19 force constant reschedules throughout the season, local ADs were delivered another change last week.
When the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors approved the use of three models for the winter sports calendar, Big 9 Conference ADs sat down — again — to hash out more plans for a season.
“None of these dates are in stone,” Owatonna AD Marc Achterkirch said. “They are, but they’re not, because we could lose a date the day of, which you obviously saw this fall.”
The MSHSL board approved three potential start dates for practice: Dec. 21, Jan. 4 or Jan. 18.
Some schools in the Big 9 Conference announced pauses last month of after-school activities until early January, while others might make that determination if Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz lifts Executive Order 20-99 and the MSHSL permits practice to start on the Dec. 21 date.
“We kind of shot for the middle and shot for the Jan. 4 date (for practice to start),” Northfield AD Joel Olson said. “We moved all of the December games and events to starting the week of Jan. 14, so that gives them 10 days to practice.”
Olson, Achterkirch and Faribault AD Keith Badger all emphasized that the decision to restart after-school activities will not be made by Walz or the MSHSL.
If those two entities provide the green light, individual school districts will still need to review COVID-19 case numbers in the local community and within schools.
“Just because the state high school league says that because the Governor’s order expired and we can start practicing, well, that doesn’t mean we can start practicing,” Achterkirch said. “That needs to be OK’d by our school board and superintendent, no different than in Rochester in Mankato. That’s what people need to understand, that this still is a local decision depending on where your community numbers are at and it it’s safe to do so.”
Mapping out a schedule
That individualized approach makes it tough to begin forming a schedule with any type of confidence.
If only half the Big 9 (which includes 12 schools) is able to start on time, that likely forces cancellations of games and alterations of schedules before the season can even start.
With the condensed timeframe for a regular season, and the maximum of two events per week, if a contest is not able to be played it’s not likely it will be able to be made up once the season gets rolling.
This winter, at least, ADs possess the experience of handling similar situations in the fall.
“With the Big 9, I felt really good being in the room with 11 other ADs knowing we were all in this together,” Badger said. “We worked really, really well together to compromise on things, and without them I would not have survived the fall.”
Badger also noted the benefit of having 11 other conference schools that are able to be inserted into schedules with relative ease.
While there was some possibility of including non-conference dates if the season were able to start in early December, the Big 9 will shift back to a mostly conference-only scheduling approach for the winter due to the limited number of dates events can now be contested.
The one exception is wrestling, which is scheduling conference duals with the option to add a third non-conference opponent to turn the meet into a triangular, if those schools are still available.
“Now that we’ve had to move things around again,” Olson said, “I don’t know if some of those same schools will be able to accommodate the change.”
There’s also the awareness and acceptance that even after a hectic end to last week, more work on schedules will be required throughout the winter season, whenever it’s officially allowed to start.
“Whenever we’re able to go, we’re going to go,” Badger said. “If that means using a Tim Walz-style cranking it up one notch and having a limited number of people in the building, that’s great. We’ll see if that’s something our numbers will support. If we can have a full-on practice session, we’ll do that. If that means games, we’ll do that. Whatever our data suggests and whatever our Incident Command Team — which is make up of a lot of really smart people — whatever they feel is best for our situation locally, that’s what we’re going to do.”