Familiar but not the same, Minnesota high school winter sports state tournaments are taking shape, bringing hope to those seeking glory and those starved for a bit of normalcy as well.
Among the plans coming into view Tuesday during a Minnesota State High School League virtual meeting of its executive board members: Two-week state tournaments for boys' and girls' basketball and girls' hockey. Quarterfinal basketball games played in high school gyms. Crowning four hockey champions — boys and girls — on one day, and eight basketball champions on back-to-back days.
Details also were discussed for other winter sports tournaments, with all of the plans hinging on navigating through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Regular season games began just last week.
While stressing that nothing is confirmed and the need for flexibility is paramount, league officials said they hope to finalize their plans by the end of next week. Approval could come Feb. 4 at the league's board of directors meeting.
None of the plans are more unusual than those for boys' and girls' tournaments for four classes of basketball and two classes of hockey.
For girls' hockey, quarterfinal games are planned for March 26 and 27, with the possibility of them being televised for the first time. Boys' quarterfinal games would be March 30 and 31 and televised. Semifinals for both genders would take place April 1 and 2, with all four championship games on April 3.
Xcel Energy Center would be the host site for all hockey games, with all semifinals and championships being televised.
For boys' and girls' basketball, the 32 quarterfinal games are being considered for March 30 and 31 at various high schools throughout the state. From there, teams would head to Target Center to play televised semifinal games April 6-8. Televised championships games would all happen April 9 and 10.
Consolation games in both sports' tournaments would be eliminated for this year.
The league is awaiting spectator capacity information from both Xcel and Target Center. At present, up to 150 people — excluding athletes, coaches and game personnel — are allowed to attend regular season games, according to Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.
After cancelling state tournaments in fall sports, the high school league committed to winter state tournaments unless public health circumstances determined otherwise. Much work has been done but many questions remain to be answered in the coming weeks, especially with logistics and competitive formats.
Among those questions: How can the individual wrestler portion of the state tournament happen safely? Can spectators be allowed at swimming and diving? Should dance team competition be held at three different venues? Are staggered starts needed in Nordic skiing?
Before fall sports resumed in August, the league approved a dramatically smaller 2020-21 budget that reflected no state tournaments. But the league recently received commitments of $433,000 from some of its corporate sponsors to be held in reserve for expenses related to 2021 winter and spring tournaments.
In previous years, state tournaments for each sport and gender were scheduled in separate weeks, generally concluding by late March.