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‘You’re going to be cold’: Michigan high school football finals headed outside in December

David Goricki
The Detroit News

The MHSAA is looking for a new home – or homes – for the state football finals.

Teams from across the state will open the six-week regular season on Sept. 18, then all teams will be eligible to compete in the state playoffs, which will begin the weekend of Oct. 30.

The expanded playoff field means the state finals will be pushed back one week. Instead of taking place on its normal Thanksgiving weekend, the finals this year will be Dec. 4-5.

Mareyohn Hrabowski and River Rouge won the 2019 Division 3 state championship at Ford Field, 30-7 over Muskegon.

“We made contact with Ford Field, but I don’t think that was looking like a possibility, so we’ll have to find someplace else,” said MHSAA spokesman Geoff Kimmerly said. “Right now, Ford Field almost for sure is not happening.”

That means this will be the first time the championship games will be played outside since the first year of the state playoffs back in 1975, when the Class B and C games were at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant and the Class A and D games were at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.

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So, would Michigan Stadium or Spartan Stadium be options? Could the MHSAA go back to Kelly/Shorts or Waldo Stadium?

“I think any place that size could be an option,” Kimmerly said. “There’s a lot of large high schools who have awesome facilities that could be options, too. We have high schools that have Division II college facilities basically. We have to accommodate media, so we have to do something where we can fit in the people that we need to have there. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to have them at separate places or over more days, maybe three days instead of two.

“Right now, in all of our postseasons we’re trying to figure out how best we can do this. The thing with football, if we had them all at one place we’d have to be able to clean the facilities between games and things like that. There are precautions. I think every facility probably has different precautions, so I think we’re kind of wide open on that stuff.”

The state title games were at the Pontiac Silverdome for 29 years, from 1976-2004, then moved to Ford Field in Detroit in 2005, where they have been since.

“That would take some air out of our sails; we were really looking forward to playing for the state championship at Ford Field this year,” said Jermain Crowell, head coach of Belleville, which is The Detroit News’ preseason No. 1 team in the state. “I was heartbroken where I heard that. You’re going to be cold, that’s for sure.”

Belleville, which reached the Division 1 state semifinals the last two years, arguably has the top aerial attack in the state, which could be tough to operate in inclement weather with temperatures more than likely in the 30s. Snow is an obvious possibility in Michigan the first week of December.

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Kimmerly said the MHSAA decided to allow all teams to participate in postseason play due to COVID-19.

“It’s one of those things where having everyone in saves us from the possibility that a school or county or number of teams might have to shut down for a week or two because of an outbreak,” Kimmerly said. “Having that extra week where everyone makes the playoffs at least means that everyone gets seven games.”

The regular high school football season is nine games, then the playoffs for qualifying teams.

Another change to the high school season for 2020 is that players are required to wear masks. So they will have mouthguards, then masks, then helmets with facemasks.

“Right now, yes they have to wear masks on the field, that’s based on the executive order from Thursday,” Kimmerly said.

“I think that’s asking a lot,” Crowell said. “I think you put in the mouth piece and play. From what I’m hearing in other states there’s not been any outbreak, where two teams played and a kid on one team gave it to another, not knowing he had it.

“We’ll have our players use neck gaiters instead of masks, but we’ll do whatever it takes. This is uncharted water and I want to be as safe as anyone else.”