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Rick Weegman / Forum Communications Co., Published November 14 2012

Future site of Minnesota state football tourney up in the air

DULUTH, Minn. – For the past 30 years, the mantra of elite high school football teams has been “We’re going to the ’Dome.”

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome has hosted the Prep Bowl since 1982 – and the semifinals in recent seasons – but the facility’s lifespan is in its waning years. The Minnesota Vikings plan to build a new stadium on the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis.

That means, at least for a couple of years during construction of the new dome, Minnesota state tournament games will need to find a new home.

The University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium is the most likely option, but scheduling dilemmas at the home of the Minnesota Gophers – and the Vikings during the construction phase – mean changes are afoot at the high school level.

Kevin Merkle, an associate director at the Minnesota State High School League, said plans where the final two rounds of the 2014 and ’15 tournaments will be held should be finalized by next fall.

“As of now – and things can always change – we’re quite sure we can play in the Dome next year, and we know we’re going to be out of there in 2015,” Merkle said Tuesday. “So the question is what happens in 2014?”

By that time, the Metrodome will be a pile of rubble and the new, unnamed stadium will be under construction.

Due to a quirk in the calendar, there’s a week off between the semifinals and the Prep Bowl in 2014, Merkle said. Since TCF Bank is available the weekend before the Prep Bowl’s traditional Thanksgiving week, Merkle said the best option is moving the finals up a week.

“It’s not a done deal yet, but that’s the plan,” he said. “We’ve had conversations with (university officials) and I’m hoping to meet with them again shortly.”

Most 2014 semifinals would need to be played at outdoor venues around the state, such as St. Cloud State, Merkle said.

Changes would be necessitated the following year as well. Since TCF Bank Stadium is available for two weekends in early November, it might require the football season to start a week earlier than normal and the playoffs to be shortened a round.

“Coaches aren’t real excited about that piece of it … but that’s the best option,” Merkle said.

The MSHSL’s TV contract stipulates that all Prep Bowl games must be at the same site, therefore stadium options are further limited.

Everything is expected to be back to normal by 2016, when the Vikings’ stadium is expected to open. The MSHSL has received assurances it will be a tenant at the new facility, Merkle said.

Weegman writes for the Duluth News Tribune