Texas A&M and Texas created shockwaves in the college football world, a couple years ago, when the schools chose to no longer play each other due to conference realignment.
A different kind of realignment - district scheduling - has thrown the football rivalry between Duluth Denfeld and Duluth East into question.
The Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors unanimously approved a plan Monday to place all member schools into districts ranging from 12 to 28 teams, from which season schedules would be formulated. Denfeld and East were placed into different districts, leaving open the possibility that when the Hunters travel across town to play at Ordean Stadium this fall, it could be the final matchup.
“We have them at home for the first time ever - and maybe the last,” East coach Joe Hietala said.
East, which currently plays in the faraway Mississippi 8 Conference, was placed into the equally faraway North Central District, a 22-team grouping that includes teams such as Moorhead and Willmar.
“Overall, for the majority of the schools in the state, it did what it was supposed to do: allow for everybody to have an eight-game schedule and keep geographical rivalries,” Hietala said. “It didn’t work out like that at all for us, just the opposite in fact.
“I’m disappointed about our placement. It seems like it didn’t address a single issue for us other than the eight-game schedule. We don’t have a single natural or geographic rivalry - from the look of it, our closest game is two hours away. It leaves us in the same situation that we’re in right now, minus Denfeld.”
Denfeld is in the Northeast District, whose 25 other schools include Cloquet, Duluth Marshall, Esko, Hermantown, Moose Lake-Willow River and Proctor.
“There’s no secret that we were one of the schools that were in favor of a revamped scheduling system such as district scheduling,” Denfeld activities director Tom Pearson said. “We’re happy with where we’re at, but I feel badly for East because I figured they would be lumped in with us. But it’s where we need to be for sure.”
Athletic directors from the newly-created districts will meet June 11 to decide what the next step will be, including how sub-districts will be determined.
“Everyone needs to keep in mind that this is just a step in the process of developing actual schedules for our member schools,” MSHSL associate director Kevin Merkle said in a statement. “Some districts have a wide range in school enrollment and geography, but once the districts determine their sub-district alignments, most of the enrollment and geographical issues will be solved.”
The MSHSL decision allows for limited inter-district scheduling upon league approval, leaving open the chance that the Duluth schools could cross over if another pair of district schools do likewise.
“It’s news to me that they are going to allow inter-district scheduling, because that’s part of the reason we had the problem we did,” said Pearson, who served on an initial committee discussing the issue but not on the final committee. “If inter-district scheduling exists, we’d certainly be in favor of playing our crosstown rival.”
Denfeld coach Frank Huie recalls a period of time - after the Hunters moved to the Super Sea-Range Conference - when the schools did not play each other. He foresees a plan to try to keep the rivalry going.
“I would say there would be a push for that,” he said.
Huie says Denfeld’s placement with smaller schools fit the three-pronged approach the MSHSL used in determining districts: population, geography and competitive balance.
“When you look at all three of those things, I think we are a ‘like’ school of those other teams,” Huie said. “That’s who we should be playing, whether we can win those games or not.
“I believe if you look at the other criteria, East met two of the three (not population). I think we got treated fairly, I’m not sure Duluth East did.”
The MSHSL said a 10-member District Football Placement Committee, made up of coaches and administrators, met five times since mid-March to determine the districts. Schools were given the opportunity to provide information to the committee in advance, including three teams that they would like to continue to schedule.
“Those requests were reviewed and met to the extent possible,” a MSHSL news release stated. “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.”
East fell into that other 10 percent. There is no appeal process, meaning East might be scheduling many of the same Mississippi 8 teams they play now such as Buffalo, Rogers and St. Michael-Albertville well into the future. Future travel plans for Denfeld, which also is a member of the Mississippi 8, likely would constitute much shorter trips once conferences are dissolved.
“We play most of those other schools in other sports,” Hietala said. “It would be fun to have rivalries with Hermantown and Cloquet. I think there would be a lot of interest in that and people would be excited for those games. I guess it’s not going to happen in the near future.”
The MSHSL goal is for all schools to have complete schedules for 2015 and 2016 by Nov. 1.
- Cook County’s request to be placed into a Nine-Man district was granted. The three-time Class A state champions were slotted into District 9 North with 23 other schools.
New MSHSL Districts District 9 North Bigfork, Carlton, Cherry, Cook County, Cromwell, Ely, Floodwood, Hill City, Isle, Kelliher/Northome, Lake of the Woods/Indus, Littlefork-Big Falls, McGregor, Mesabi Academy, Mountain Iron-Buhl, Nevis, North Woods, Northeast Range, Northland, Ogilvie, Onamia, Silver Bay, South Ridge, Wrenshall.
District Northeast Aitkin, Barnum, Braham, Chisholm, Cloquet, Crosby-Ironton, Deer River, Duluth Denfeld, East Central, Esko, Eveleth-Gilbert, Grand Rapids, Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, Hermantown, Hibbing, Hinckley-Finlayson, International Falls, Duluth Marshall, Mesabi East, Moose Lake-Willow River, Mora, Pine City, Proctor, Rush City, Two Harbors, Virginia.
District North Central Alexandria, Bemidji, Big Lake, Brainerd, Buffalo, Cambridge-Isanti, Chisago Lakes Area, Duluth East, Elk River, Monticello, Moorhead, North Branch, Princeton, Rocori, Rogers, Saint Cloud Tech, Sartell-Saint Stephen, Sauk Rapids-Rice, St. Cloud Apollo, St. Francis, St. Michael-Albertville, Willmar.