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Talks begin about switching dates for football, volleyball championships

Since volleyball became a fall sport in South Dakota in 2002, it has always had its state championship week following the football title games. But conversations have started about changing that.

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Since volleyball became a fall sport in South Dakota in 2002, it has always had its state championship week following the football title games. But conversations have started about changing that.

The South Dakota High School Activities Association Football Advisory Committee voted unanimously (7-0) during a Nov. 26 meeting to propose flipping championship weeks with volleyball. The desire for a change comes from football safety concerns stemming from not enough time to prepare their teams for the first game of the season while following the heat-acclimatization regulations and contact limitations.

The current proposal would have football start practice on a Thursday instead of Monday, but have games start a week later than currently to give teams three extra days of practice, which would be without pads. In turn, the volleyball season would have to be shortened by a few days, SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand said.

"I think the point of the football advisory's proposal was to simply start the conversation," Krogstrand said. "It's more of a request to take a look at it and evaluate the pros and cons and the opportunities to potentially help our coaches on the football side and the athletic sports medicine side help address those concerns."

Krogstrand also said that the DakotaDome is more flexible for scheduling, now that the University of South Dakota has opened the Sanford Coyote Sports Center to house basketball and volleyball.

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The conversation has been started nationally, with the National Association of Sports Medicine, National Federation of State High School Associations and National Athletic Trainers' Association helping push the safety regulations of preseason football practices in high school sports.

No changes to South Dakota's schedule could come before 2021-22, officials said, because of existing contracts with championship venues. The issue will go before the South Dakota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association at its annual meeting in March. The SDHSAA Board of Directors will also informally discuss the matter in January, before potentially taking official action in April, Krogstrand said.

McCook Central/Montrose football coach Ryan Evans, who is a member of the football advisory board, said the coaches didn't go into the meeting with this idea in mind, though. Instead, they were simply concerned about the lack of time to prepare their team and initially suggested getting rid of the bye week. However, that's not an option given the odd number of teams in certain classes.

Football also can't start practices sooner because it would overlap with the teener baseball state championships, while switching would help avoid the current conflict of football's first games occuring during the State 4-H rodeo.

"The football coaches really wanted the high school activities association to see we do support the preseason heat acclimatization and contact rules," Evans said. "We just really want more time for athletes to be ready to play a game."

The change would also be more in line with surrounding states' football playoffs, though Evans said that didn't influence the football advisory's proposal.

Among nearby and peer states, only North Dakota in the Upper Midwest region has its football season structured like South Dakota, while Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming are either in the football quarterfinals or semifinals during South Dakota's volleyball championships. Kansas and Missouri are in their early rounds.

"We can't find anybody who has fewer days than (South Dakota) for their first game, as far as preparation time and lead-in time," Krogstrand said.

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Volleyball has concerns with the switch, though. For one, it would force teams to play more games in a smaller amount of time. Moving everything in the volleyball season up one week would also mean region volleyball is the same week as all-state chorus, where it was lined up with the volleyball regular season and second round of football playoffs this year.

"I can't dispute safety features, I completely understand that. One of my concerns is that right now we have all-state chorus on that (week)," Bridgewater-Emery principal and volleyball assistant coach Christena Schultz said. "... Based on history at (Bridgewater-Emery), I have far more volleyball players that choose to do all-state chorus than I do football players."

That concern is why Krogstrand said potentially switching weeks involves more than just football and volleyball coaches.
"Certainly, I think the intention is to have the discussions in March at our state athletic directors conference just to see what the straw poll is for favorability, for if our membership thinks this is even an option," Krogstrand said.

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