OUR VIEW: Combine two Dakotas into one for football
It’s true that South Dakota high school football isn’t healthy.
Yes, we have seven divisions for 141 teams. That’s far too many divisions.
Yes, there are too many blowouts during the regular season.
And yes, great enrollment discrepancies are only getting greater, meaning an easy solution isn’t likely to surface anytime soon.
So here is the easiest fix: Combine South Dakota and North Dakota into a single football “state,” with teams eventually playing for a single Dakotas title.
We realize this won’t happen, but bear with us anyway.
South Dakota has 141 teams and North Dakota has 91. That’s 232 between the two states, but it’s still far fewer than Minnesota’s 386 teams.
How many champions will Minnesota crown later this month? Seven — same as South Dakota. North Dakota will crown four.
Mileage shouldn’t be a concern with this idea, since it’s closer for Sioux Falls schools to drive to Fargo than to Rapid City.
In our plan, schools would play mostly according to geography during the regular season, with six games against teams from the same state and then another two or three against out-of-state teams. The first round of the playoffs could be based on geography and then later rounds would be seeded.
Still worried about mileage? Tell that to Harding County, which this year traveled to Hayti (about 400 miles and seven hours) for a playoff game just one week after traveling to Burke (365 miles). Other teams made big trips this year, too, including:
- Wall (264 miles to Avon).
- New Underwood (300 miles to Howard).
- Hill City (325 miles to Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan).
- De Smet (364 miles to Hill City).
- Rapid City St. Thomas More (300 miles to Parkston).
- Redfield (289 miles to St. Thomas More).
- Custer (325 miles to Parkston).
- Aberdeen Roncalli (230 miles to Canton).
- Belle Fourche (410 miles to Dell Rapids).
- West Central (385 miles to Hot Springs).
- Sioux Falls O’Gorman (350 miles to Rapid City Central).
- Rapid City Stevens (350 miles to Sioux Falls Lincoln).
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s north-south geographic size isn’t much different than the Dakotas’, yet that state seems to have figured out trouble with excessive mileage by playing at neutral sites.
The same could be done in the Dakotas. By our calculations, each of the top two divisions could have 16 teams, generally classing Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks programs into the upper class and the current South Dakota Class 11AA teams with North Dakota’s Jamestown, Dickinson, Williston, Devil’s Lake, Mandan and so on.
Without great changes, South Dakota’s football problem will never go away. South Dakotans are still migrating from rural areas to the edges of the state, and until more schools consolidate, enrollment discrepancies will continue to widen.
We believe a seventh class was justified, since Sioux Falls and Rapid City schools will continue to outpace enrollments at Mitchell and Huron and other central South Dakota schools. It’s likely the same is happening in North Dakota.
But that seventh class is only a Band-Aid, and big changes are needed before football truly becomes exciting and fair again in South Dakota.
Combining our state playoffs with North Dakota is radical, but radical changes eventually must happen.
In the end, maybe the most radical of ideas may make the most sense.