Postseason, Playing Rules Modifications Taking Effect as Fall Practices Begin

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

August 4, 2023

A series of changes, including adjustments to postseason qualification in multiple sports and several playing rules, will take effect Monday, Aug. 7, as more than 95,000 athletes statewide are anticipated to begin the Fall 2023 season across nine sports for which the Michigan High School Athletic Association sponsors postseason tournaments.

Teams in girls and boys cross country, football, Lower Peninsula girls golf, boys soccer, Lower Peninsula girls swimming & diving, Upper Peninsula girls tennis and Lower Peninsula boys tennis, and girls volleyball may begin practice Monday. Competition begins Aug. 14 for golf and tennis, Aug. 16 for cross country, soccer, swimming & diving and volleyball, and Aug. 24 for varsity football. Football teams at all levels must have 12 days of preseason practice – over a period of 16 calendar days – before their first game.

Qualification requirements for MHSAA Finals competition have been adjusted to provide more opportunities in two sports.

The Swimming & Diving Finals could enjoy larger fields this fall thanks to a change in the structuring of qualifying times. Moving forward, qualifying times will be determined based on the past five years of MHSAA race data, but also will account for past numbers of qualifiers in each swim race. This shift will allow for more athletes to advance to the Finals in events where fields have not been full over the previous five seasons.

In tennis, for the first time in Lower Peninsula play, a No. 1 doubles flight from a non-qualifying team will be able to advance from its Regional to Finals competition. To do so, that No. 1 doubles flight must finish first or second at its Regional, and the No. 1 singles player from that team also must have qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play.

Also affecting MHSAA Tournament play, golfers now are required to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that school team in an MHSAA Regional or Final. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hole events.

A pair of significant changes have switched up the Finals schedules this fall in boys soccer and football. Instead of playing at multiple sites as in the past, all four Boys Soccer Finals will be played on the same day at the same site, Nov. 4 at Grand Ledge High School beginning with Division 4 and ending with Division 1.

The 11-Player Football Finals will start and finish a day later at Ford Field, concluding that sport’s season Saturday, Nov. 25 and Sunday, Nov. 26, instead of with the traditional Friday/Saturday schedule. This one-year adjustment is being made to accommodate the Michigan State/Penn State football game Friday, Nov. 24, at Ford Field.

Opportunities have been created as well beginning this fall for scheduling more out-of-state opponents in all sports, as teams are now able to play opponents from anywhere in the United States as long as those competitions are played in Michigan, contiguous states Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota or Wisconsin, or Ontario. All out-of-state opponents must be members in good standing of their respective high school athletic association, and any multi-team event including schools from outside of Michigan or those contiguous states/province must receive approval by the MHSAA and each state high school association with a team involved in order for MHSAA member schools to be allowed to participate.

Rules changes will be literally visible in two sports as more flexibility will be allowed by new wardrobe exceptions in cross country and girls volleyball. In volleyball, small, secured studs or posts now may be worn above the chin. In cross country, athletes may now wear temporary body adornment (painted or fastened) during competition, and runners also may now wear any type of head attire during racing.

As is annually true, a series of playing rule changes also take effect with the new season. The following are among the most notable:

  • The most significant in football changes how the ball is spotted after penalties by the offense that occur behind the line of scrimmage. Previously, those were marked from the spot of the foul; now those penalties will be marked from the previous spot – the line of scrimmage where that play began. This change was made to eliminate excessive penalties on the offense when an infraction took place well behind the line of scrimmage.
  • In volleyball, teams will stay on the same bench for the duration of a match unless officials determine a clear disadvantage exists for the bench on one side of the court. In that case, teams will exchange sides of the court after each set.
  • Another pair of changes affect where volleyball coaches may be positioned during matches. Coaches may stand in a new coaching zone, now defined by the libero replacement zone extending beyond the end line and sideline extended. During dead-ball situations, one assistant coach also may stand within the coaching zone to provide instruction; only one assistant coach can stand at a time, but the assistant coach who stands may change throughout the match.
  • Two officiating-related changes will be especially noticeable on the soccer pitch. Officials now may stop the clock to check on an injured player without that player being required to leave the match – previously that player would have to sub out. Also, categories for fouls have been redefined: careless (which is a foul but does not receive a card), reckless (a foul with a yellow card) and excessive force (foul with red card).
  • In swimming, stroke modifications were made in the backstroke and breaststroke events.  

The 2023 Fall campaign culminates with postseason tournaments beginning with the Upper Peninsula Girls Tennis Finals during the week of Oct. 2 and wrapping up with the 11-Player Football Finals on Nov. 25 and 26. Here is a complete list of fall tournament dates:

Cross Country
U.P. Finals – Oct. 21
L.P. Regionals – Oct. 27 or 28
L.P. Finals – Nov. 4

11-Player Football
Selection Sunday – Oct. 22
Pre-Districts – Oct. 27 or 28
District Finals – Nov. 3 or 4
Regional Finals – Nov. 10 or 11
Semifinals – Nov. 18
Finals – Nov. 25-26

8-Player Football
Selection Sunday – Oct. 22
Regional Semifinals – Oct. 27 or 28
Regional Finals – Nov. 3 or 4
Semifinals – Nov. 11
Finals – Nov. 18

L.P. Girls Golf
Regionals – Oct. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14
Finals – Oct. 20-21

L.P. Boys Districts – Oct. 11-21
L.P. Boys Regionals – Oct. 24-28
L.P. Boys Semifinals – Nov. 1
L.P. Boys Finals – Nov. 4

L.P. Girls Swimming & Diving
Diving Regionals – Nov. 9
Swimming/Diving Finals – Nov. 17-18

U.P. Girls Finals – Oct. 4, 5, 6 or 7
L.P. Boys Regionals – Oct. 11, 12, 13 or 14
L.P. Boys Finals – Oct. 20-21

Girls Volleyball
Districts – Oct. 30-Nov. 4
Regionals – Nov. 7 & 9
Quarterfinals – Nov. 14
Semifinals – Nov. 16-17
Finals – Nov. 18

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year. 

MHSAA High School Sports Participation Continues to Exceed Population Ranking Nationally

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

September 15, 2023

Michigan continued to rank 10th nationally in high school-aged population during the 2022-23 school year and continued to best that ranking in participation in high school sports, according to the annual national participation study conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

Michigan ranked ninth for overall participation nationally, based on a total of 268,070 participants who competed in sports for which the MHSAA conducts postseason tournaments. The total counts students once for each sport played, meaning students who are multiple-sport athletes are counted more than once.

Michigan also ranked ninth nationally for both girls (111,569) and boys (156,501) participation separately, while ranking ninth for high-school aged boys population and 10th for girls according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Michigan’s national rankings in seven sports improved from 2021-22, while nine sports saw lower national rankings than the previous year. The biggest jumps came in girls volleyball and boys soccer, which both moved up two spots – volleyball to fourth-highest participation nationally, and boys soccer to eighth. Girls golf (fourth), softball (seventh), girls track & field (seventh), girls swimming & diving and boys swimming & diving (both eighth) also moved up on their respective national lists.

Participation in several more MHSAA sports also continued to outpace the state’s rankings for high school-aged population.

For girls, participation in bowling (fourth), tennis (fourth), cross country (sixth), basketball (seventh), competitive cheer (ninth) and soccer (ninth) all ranked higher than their population listing of 10th nationally. Among boys sports, bowling (second), ice hockey (fourth), tennis (fifth), golf (fifth), basketball (sixth), track & field (sixth), cross country (seventh), football – all formats combined (seventh) and baseball (eighth) exceeded that ninth ranking for population.

Only 11 states sponsor alpine skiing, but Michigan ranked third on both the girls and boys lists for that sport. Wrestling, with boys and girls totals counted together, ranked eighth.

Participation nationally rose more than three percent from 2021-22 to 7,857,969 participants, the first upward movement in participation data since the all-time record of 7,980,886 in 2017-18, which was followed by the first decline in 30 years in 2018-19 and the two-year halt in data collection by the NFHS related to the pandemic. (The MHSAA continued to collect and report its data during this time.) The national total includes 4,529,789 boys and 3,328,180 girls, according to figures obtained from the 51 NFHS member state associations, which include the District of Columbia.

Eleven-player football remained the most popular boys sport, and most popular participation sport overall, with the total climbing back over one million participants. The total of 1,028,761 participants marked an increase of 54,969 and 5.6 percent from the previous year. This year’s increase was the first in the sport since 2013 and only the second increase since the all-time high of 1,112,303 in 2008-09. There also was a slight gain (34,935 to 35,301) in the number of boys in 6-, 8- and 9-player football.

Next on the boys list were outdoor track & field, basketball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, cross country, tennis, golf, and swimming & diving, respectively.

On the girls side, outdoor track and field (up 6.5 percent) and volleyball (3.6) remained in the top two spots, while basketball reclaimed the third position. Cross country ranked fourth, followed by softball, soccer, golf, tennis, swimming & diving and competitive spirit, respectively.

Texas remained atop the list of state participation with 827,446, but California closed the gap in second adding 25,000 participants to climb to 787,697. New York is third with 356,803, followed by Illinois (335,801), Ohio (323,117), Pennsylvania (316,587), Florida (297,389), New Jersey (272,159), Michigan (268,070) and Minnesota (219,094), which climbed into the top 10 past Massachusetts.

The participation survey has been compiled in its current form by the NFHS since 1971.