Denfeld News

Oct. 2, 2010
Duluth News Tribune

Can Duluth Central find a home?
By Rick Weegman

Conference rivals in football a year ago, Duluth Central and Detroit Lakes have spent 2010 wandering the independent wilderness.

As such, scheduling Friday night’s game at Public Schools Stadium was a no-brainer. But with Detroit Lakes’ inclusion in the Heart O’Lakes North Conference for the 2011-12 school year, it means Central must seek another long-distance foe to schedule.

“We’re one of those schools with a big problem,” Central activities director Tom Pearson said of next year’s schedule, which has at least four open dates.

That problem, which affects Duluth East and Grand Rapids as well, came about after the dissolution of the North Country Conference. All three schools have applied to — and been rejected by — the Central Lakes, Mississippi 8 and Sea-Range conferences.

That’s the first step that ultimately could lead to the Minnesota State High School League placing those schools in one of those conferences. The next step is for those schools to send a letter to the MSHSL stating why they are a good fit for each of those conferences — the conferences will do likewise stating why they are not — leaving an independent panel to decide the schools’ fate.

“It leaves us waiting for the 180-day (waiting period) to expire (around mid-December) and the state to step in and give us some guidance,” Trojans coach Chris Vold said. “We need a little help getting in somewhere or getting a schedule.”

The Trojans scheduled road trips to Kingsford, Mich., and St. Paul Como Park this year as well as using a bye week after failing to fill an eight-game schedule.

Detroit Lakes coach Flint Motschenbacher, whose team beat Central 34-17 in its final trip to PSS, empathizes with the Trojans’ situation.

“The Coaches Association and the (MSHSL) are working on it, but it’s tough to please everybody,” he said. “Us outstate people are kind of stuck; there’s only so many schools our size up here.”

Vold says Central’s enrollment — the students move permanently to Denfeld next year — will decrease over the next two years, making it a better fit for the Sea-Range if that conference expands to large and small divisions as it had years ago with the Super Sea-Range.

“In two years, there’s no reason why we couldn’t fit with a Hermantown or a Cloquet; we’re not going to be that much bigger,” Vold said. “People are piggybacking us with Duluth East, and we’re apples and oranges.”

The MSHSL recently reclassified Central into Class AAAA after it had been placed in the largest class for football. East, which remains in Class AAAAA, is in a similar struggle to find a home.

“The last thing we want to do is make waves, but at the same time we’re struggling so bad to find games,” East AD Shawn Roed said. “We’re trying to find a place that works for everyone. Our ultimate goal is to find a place like that, but we don’t know where that is yet.”

Grand Rapids’ scheduling woes were alleviated after accepting a one-year offer to be an unofficial member of the Wright County Conference.

Other options are under consideration. A vote could be taken at next week’s MSHSL board meeting to allow what’s termed “zero week” scheduling, which would allow schools to schedule games a week before the traditional opener as long as they take a bye week later in the 2011 season.

“That’s garnered enough support and, I think, enough people think that’s a way we can help people right now without coming up with a whole new system,” MSHSL associate director Kevin Merkle said Friday. “It’s kind of a quick fix for some schools.”

The MSHSL also is considering a playoff format change that would alter many schools’ schedules. Two plans are up for consideration, both which essentially amount to section scheduling. One allows for a nine-game schedule, seven against section opponents, and reduces the playoff qualifiers by half — similar to Wisconsin’s system — while the other keeps an eight-game format, seven against opponents in the same section.

“There are schools that like the section concept because they are struggling with schedules and spend a lot of time on it and still can’t get games,” Merkle said. “For others who don’t have those problems, they are concerned that one of the big disadvantages is that it increases travel. Others are concerned because it changes who you play.”

Merkle said a football task force has been formed and it might make a recommendation to the MSHSL board in December, and, if passed, would go into effect for the 2012-13 school year.

Around that same time, the Duluth schools should find out where the MSHSL will place them.

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