Posted By: Jason Iacovino

The long awaited "District scheduling" groupings were announced Monday by the Minnesota State High School League and the change will be most notable for two area teams: Blooming Prairie and Medford.

The two Gopher Conference opponents will now see more of their Section counterparts to the East starting in 2015 based upon a state-wide model intended to make it easier for schools to fill out an 8-game football schedule.  While the districts won't change much for Owatonna and Triton--who have been paired up primarly with teams in their current conferences (The Big 9 and Southern Football Alliance, respectively), the Awesome Blossoms and Tigers will have some road trips to the East.

Based upon the current lineup of teams in Section 1A (This is also due to be re-shuffled for 2015-16), all 8 teams in the Section are now included in the newly formed "Southeast District," which includes BP, Medford, and Bethlehem Academy from the Gopher Valley, along with 13 other schools--most from the small school divisions of the Southern Football Alliance.

This would give the Blossoms and Tigers the opportunity to see the likes of Section opponents Rushford-Peterson, Goodhue, Fillmore Central, Southland, Kingsland, and Wabasha-Kellogg in the regular season.  Although with 16 teams in all, clearly not every opponent in the Southeast District will be a Section 1A foe.  The district also includes teams from Section 1AA (Hayfield), Section 2AA (Kenyon-Wanamingo), Section 2A (Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and Mankato Loyola) and even Section 3A (United South Central and St. Clair).  But as I said, these Section assignments will also be re-visited in the coming school year as the MSHSL realligns based on enrollment every two years.

One of the challenges of Section 1A has been the sharp divide between the 3 Gopher Valley schools and their counterparts from the Southern Football Alliance (Formerly Three Rivers and Goodhue from the Hiawatha Valley League) as they have no common regular season opponents.  Bethlehem Academy and BP have won Section 1A four of the last five seasons after teams from the southeast, including Goodhue and Rushford-Peterson, dominated from 1999-2008.  Monday's announcement basically means the Southern Football Alliance will experience just a 2-season shelf life.

For Owatonna, little will change other than the anticipated inclusion of Northfield and Red Wing to the Big 9, as 11 of the 12 teams in its "Big Southeast District" are Big 9 schools.  The only exception is New Prague is included in the district while Albert Lea instead is grouped with smaller schools in the South Central district.  This will be a major development for Albert Lea as they have struggled mightily to compete in the Big 9 in football for over 15 years.

The Triton Cobras will also see familiar foes from its newly formed Southern Football Alliance in the "Southeast District," which is exclusively comprised of the large schools from the Alliance (Byron, Rochester Lourdes, Stewartville, Lake City, etc.).

New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva is slated for the same South Central District as Albert Lea as this district includes 28 teams that goes as far west as Luverne and as far Northwest as Norwood-Young-America.  It will be very interesting to see what NRHEG's schedule looks like in 2014--while there are familiar schools in the district like Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, Maple River, Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, Lake Crystal-Wellcome-Memorial, and Martin County West--the Panthers could also find themselves playing Waseca, St. Peter, and / or Worthington.

The MSHSL release indicated that sub-districts will be created for the larger districts and indicated that it is hopeful the 2015 and 2016 regular season schedules will be completed by Nov. 16.

The districts were determined by a 10-member committe which sought information from each school regarding their scheduling desires, including the ability to name 3 schools they most want to see remain on their schedules, according to the release.  Ninety-percent of those requests were satisfied.

One local rivalry that will be halted starting in 2015 is the BP vs. NRHEG football game.  The Blossoms and Panthers renewed its rivalry in 2008 after a 5-year hiatus when the two teams split into separate divisions of the Gopher Valley.  NRHEG won three games in a row between 2008-10 and BP has won the last 3 meetings.  The two Highway 30 rivals will meet again this fall in New Richland but will not play in 2015 or 2016 based upon the current district allignments.

Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.