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Making the Friday Night Lights happen

Schedules--every high school football team in South Dakota has one. But what goes into creating some of the most important Friday nights in the fall? In short, more than one would think. Unlike many surrounding states, all of South Dakota's prep ...

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Schedules-every high school football team in South Dakota has one.

But what goes into creating some of the most important Friday nights in the fall? In short, more than one would think.

Unlike many surrounding states, all of South Dakota's prep football schedules are created and released by the South Dakota High School Activities Association.

The SDHSAA took over scheduling process more than 20 years ago because too many schools across the state weren't able to put together a full schedule on their own.

SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand said a variety of factors, such as conferences, classifications, co-ops, special requests and regional opponents, go into creating each school's football schedules.

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"I think everybody understands the difficulty of the process of trying to accommodate right around 140 football teams," Krogstrand said. "Just how fluid how things are between schools, that are forming co-ops and have changing conference alignments. There's a lot of moving parts, and the vast majority are supportive of the effort and understand what it all takes."

Prior to 1981, South Dakota didn't have statewide football playoffs. Before then, much more merit was placed on winning a conference.

Because of the history many schools have within a particular conference, Krogstrand said the SDHSAA puts a high priority on keeping conference opponents on the schedule.

"We've always tried our best to preserve those conference relationships," Krogstrand said. "The first step is looking at those conferences and doing the best we can to make sure everyone plays everyone within the conference."

For example, Mitchell has competed in the Eastern South Dakota in football dating back to 1927. Mitchell knows it will always play all the Class 11AA ESD teams-Yankton, Huron, Brookings, Pierre and Harrisburg.

"We're always aware of our schedule and the travel and competition we expect," Mitchell head football coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "We know we're going to have to play some (Class) 11AAA teams and we will have some travel. We're happy for the opportunity to compete."

While keeping conference schedules intact is important, Krogstrand said making sure every team gets a full schedule-at least eight games-is the highest priority.

"Our priority is to make sure every school is taken care of," Krogstrand said. "There are some (schools) from year-to-year that don't fully appreciate their schedule or would like to see things differently. At the end of the day, it works out better for schools compared to other states so that everybody gets a full schedule."

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With just under 140 teams in the state, the process of creating schedules for every team is much easier said than done. Krogstrand said the year-round process begins when the yearly classification numbers come out in December. The SDHSAA allows each school to fill out information explaining the team's classification, the conferences the school is in and special requests for certain bowl games-like the President Bowl in Sioux Falls or the Hub City Bowl in Aberdeen-as well as certain requested opponents and rivals.

Taking all the classification, conference information and special requests into effect, the SDHSAA also looks for region opponents, but tries not to schedule a region opponent on the last week of the season because of the chance a team will face that opponent in the first round of the playoffs a few days later.

Krogstrand said schedules try to avoid three straight weeks on the road and keep teams from having back-to-back long cross-state road trips.

"It's certainly challenging," Krogstrand said. "The unique thing about football, is you have the one game a week and you have Friday Night Lights. You don't have the flexibility that'd you have in volleyball or basketball."

Krogstrand the SDHSAA "self-imposed" deadline is for schedules to be completed by the third weekend of February for two-year periods. For example, the 2015 football schedule and 2016 football schedules were released in February 2015, with officials assigned to each game as well. This allows all school athletic directors to review and handle any issues at the athletic directors' annual meeting in March. The two-year scheduling period allows home and away games to be scheduled with each time on the schedule.

While Krogstrand said sports such as volleyball and basketball offer more flexibility, the high amount of teams in football makes scheduling more geographically friendly than some sports such as soccer and tennis, which have fewer teams competing.

"We still see strong participation numbers and strong number of schools wanting to have a football team, whether it's through a co-op or through consolidation," Krogstrand said. "That continues to help football."

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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