MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — High school football weather in Minnesota consists of warm summer nights to start season, slowly fading into an autumn chill worthy of gloves and blankets in the stands.
That order will be reversed this year with the Minnesota State High School League’s decision to move the fall football season to spring, a time when winter can linger long enough to create a new set of outdoor challenges.
Sam Bauer is an agronomist and owner of Bauer Turf, LLC. He specializes in soil and grass management.
“The concern about football in March and April is real,” Bauer said.
He said grass football fields in the fall are warm and have a cushion to them. In early spring, they’re frozen.
“When those fields are frozen, they basically act like pavement, and any type of contact sport that’s held on those fields can be an issue as far as injuries go,” he said.
The long-term effects of a spring season could be damaging to grass fields as well. Football cleats can chew up the field — that is if they can even dig into the frozen ground well. Bauer said the beating from repeated football games could significantly stunt grass growth.
“I would anticipate with a spring football season, we would potentially look at a lot of football field renovations that next fall just due to the sheer amount of traffic, especially when our grounds as you mentioned are very, very wet,” he said.
Bauer is also part of the Minnesota Park and Sports Turf Managers Association board. He said during a recent meeting, the board discussed creating a set of guidelines and tests in the coming months to determine whether a natural grass field is safe enough to play on during the spring season.
“That would really be based on the firmness level of that field. There are a lot of tools that we can use to measure firmness,” he said.
The issues continue with whatever Mother Nature decides to drop, ranging from heavy downpours to measureable snowstorms as late as April, according to WCCO Meteorologist Mike Augustyniak.
“Weather records here in the Twin Cities go back about 120 years, and three of the top-10 snowiest Aprils on record have happened since 2002, and two of the snowiest Aprils on record have happened since 2013,” Augustyniak said.
Rainfall in the autumn is absorbed by the warm ground. In the spring, it sits on top of the frozen ground. The melting snow pack runs into the same problem.
“I think it really is the combination of the snow, frozen ground and melting that are the biggest concerns,” Augustyniak said.
Many metro schools like Cooper High School in Robbinsdale have synthetic turf, which drains well and is easier to maintain no matter the weather. But head football coach Willie Howard said inner city and rural schools might not be so fortunate.
“What do we do to partner with each other to make sure that rural, they might be playing on grass, how do we help partner to make sure those students get the same experience as a school that has three domes, that has three turf fields out for practice? How do we make that experience equitable for all students?” Howard said.
Although Cooper High School has a turf field, the practice fields are natural grass. He worries too that if a large snowfall happens his teams might not be able to practice for several days, hurting preparation for game night.
“When you talk about 8 inches of snow, that possibility of that snow sitting three or four days if there’s no sun, how does that affect football moving forward?” Howard said.