MSHSL's asking price for member schools shoots up amid pandemic
The Minnesota State High School League has been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Minnesota high schools are being asked to pony up in order to help pay those bills.
Steve Strickland looked at the sticker shock of his school maintaining its Minnesota State High School League membership and gulped hard.
That came late last week, with the MSHSL having sent out letters to all of its member schools telling them that there would be an additional fee this year. It’s in lieu of the league trying to make up for its massive financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The MSHSL had forever financed itself predominantly with money made from the state high school tournaments it runs. COVID-19 yanked that income source away beginning last March when the MSHSL shut down the state girls basketball tournament midway through due to the pandemic.
There haven’t been any state tournaments since and may not be any this entire 2020-21 school year. The league hasn't budgeted for any postseason tournament revenue for the 2020-21 season. The league budget says it made nearly $7.3 million from tournaments and the accompanying television rights and sponsorships in 2019-20.
To make up for those financial losses, the MSHSL raised its per-activity fee for each school from $120 to $160, a change made this summer, as well as charged every student a $1 fee. But then last week came a notification from the MSHSL that hit so many activities directors around the state even harder, including Rochester Lourdes’ Strickland. It was an alert to a new bill called “COVID installments.” Each school was being asked to pay one installment on Nov. 30 and another on Feb. 28 to help the MSHSL to make up for so much lost revenue.
For Lourdes, the combined costs of those two payments will be $7,000. The state’s largest schools will pay $11,000, the smallest $3,000.
It wasn’t the kind of news that Strickland took easily.
“I don’t like how this has come out now, when most (schools’) budgets have already been set,” Strickland said. “This is an added cost. Most budgets were set late last winter or early spring. Now it’s a matter of how do we recoup these fees. I’m going to have to take it to our board of trustees that this is out there. I just wish there had been better communication about it.”
Strickland voiced his complaint all while acknowledging that the pandemic has put everyone in a state of flux, certainly including the MSHSL. He understands that many decisions are necessarily being made on the fly as a result. This is one more.
“I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, because like us, the (pandemic) has had a tremendous impact on them,” Strickland said. “The MSHSL has a bunch of incredible people, but this (bill) is a tough one.”
John Ostrowski has served as the Dover-Eyota activities director the past 23 years. Ostrowski is also in his second year as a member of the MSHSL board of directors, the Class A representative out of Sections One and Two. Mankato East Activities Director Todd Waterbury is the AA representative.
Ostrowski isn’t keen on having more bills laid at his feet, either. He says that the “COVID installments” will also cost Dover-Eyota an extra $7,000. Still, he sees it as the best alternative. He also believes that the MSHSL is right to be raising fees in order to pay its bills rather than keep its dependence on state tournament revenues. He believes that to be true not just this year when there may be no state tourneys, but every year.
“Really, this was a conversation the (MSHSL) board was having a couple of years ago, about how do we move away from being almost completely reliant on state tournament revenue,” Ostrowski said. “When you do (rely on state tournaments), you are at the mercy of weather, good matchups for games, and whether people go because maybe the games are on TV. You want to have a more solid budget than that.”
St. Charles Activities Director Scott McCready says there is also something else that he is after. That is for the MSHSL to be around for a long time.
The value of the MSHSL, McCready, Ostrowski and Strickland agree, goes well beyond the state tournaments it puts on. It also trains referees, offers coaching education and concussion protocols, as well as provides catastrophic insurance for high school athletes.
“What the MSHSL provides is far beyond what you see on television with the tournaments,” McCready said. “We need to provide a stable model for them so they can continue to offer us all of their services.”
The MSHSL budget for 2020-21 lists school registration fees climbing from $1,216,000 to $5,000,000. For some schools, the new fees add up to nearly a 400-percent increase in MSHSL membership fees.
Tim McAthie has been the Zumbrota-Mazeppa activities director for 15 years.
He says that COVID-19 has changed everything. That includes the big bill his school also just received from the MSHSL.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” McAthie said. “And I hope to never see it again.”