It just got a lot more costly to play high school sports in Minnesota.
Last week, Minnesota high schools received a bill from the Minnesota State High School League -- the athletics governing body -- and some in this area are facing a nearly 400 percent increase in membership fees.
In order to make up for the lost revenue of MSHSL prep tournaments during the pandemic, the MSHSL charged its members -- which aren't playing football or volleyball this fall -- a COVID fee, in addition to other increased fees.
The MSHSL budget for 2020-21 lists school registration fees climbing from $1,216,000 to $5,000,000.
"There's quite a few schools upset," East Grand Forks Senior High athletic director Scott Koberinski said. "That's a big shock to a lot of schools. What do you do? You're not going to say to all these kids we're not going to pay the bill."
For East Grand Forks Senior High, that's a jump from about $2,000 of MSHSL fees in 2019-20 to $11,000 in 2020-21. Similarly for Thief River Falls, it's a specific jump from $2,277 to $11,198 -- an increase of more than 390 percent.
"All the athletic directors I've visited with were incredibly surprised," said Stephen-Argyle athletic director Kevin Kuznia, whose program saw a 211 percent increase from $1,760 to $5,484. "The conversations we've received in the high school league Zoom meetings were clear there'd be an increase but not in regards to some seeing a 400 percent increase."
It's not just the bigger high schools in the area seeing large increases. East Grand Forks Sacred Heart's league fees went from $1,862 to $6,862. The fees are based on enrollment and number of activities sponsored, and Sacred Heart landed in the $5,000 COVID fee range for enrollments of 102 to 204 students by just one student.
Roseau's MSHSL fees went from $2,420 to $10,857 -- a 348 percent increase.
Fosston's dues will increase from $2,200 to $8,371. Climax will go from $1,430 to $4,498. Grygla will move from $990 to $2,640.
"You're helping one another, but it's a little shock when you're thrown that curveball," Koberinski said. "Those are big membership dues. But, it's the reality where we are with the model that's been built."
The MSHSL 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.
In February, the board of directors unanimously approved raising each school’s annual league membership fee from $120 to $160 for the 2020-21 school year. The fee that schools pay the league per activity also rose from $120 to $160.
The league also introduced a new mandate this year in that schools are paying $1 per student.
Some athletic directors in the area question the methodology of asking league members to carry such a burden for the budget.
In July, the MSHSL approved a task force to overhaul what board treasurer Tom Jerome, the superintendent at Roseau, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis was "an unsustainable and in some ways archaic" approach to funding the organization off of tournament revenue. Jerome is also MSHSL Board Vice President and head of the Financial Task Force.
A year ago, the MSHSL made $889,945 off the state football playoffs and $1,133.783 off of playoff hockey.
Some area athletic directors have also questioned the salary of MSHSL administrators during these cost-cutting times. The league's executive director and top five assistants made $1,155,421 yearly in total compensation, ranging individually from $153,869 to $281,213, according to the most recent available tax documents (2017).
According to the MSHSL, the league has reduced its staff from 23.5 to 19.5 positions. Comparing budgets from last year to this year, the league says it will pay personnel $3,385,200 in 2019-20 and $2,982,000 in 2020-21. As for operations and administration, the budget says it spent $1,376,900 last year and will spend $1,144,200 in 2020-21.