MSHSL facing $500K deficit that could grow this fall

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For more than 30 years, Mike Zea has officiated high school track meets.

"A track starter is the basic official that starts all the meets," Zea described.

He paid his annual $55 fee to the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) to officiate this spring but then the season was canceled due to COVID-19. Zea was not reimbursed.

"The $55, it's a principal thing, you pay for your season, it’s canceled, you expect the money back," he said.

The league's board voted not to refund the fees, or fees that member schools pay for spring activities, an amount that totals more than $300,000.

"A lot of those costs have already gone out the door and those expenses already exist within the organization, they (board members) believe it was the right thing to do," MSHSL Executive Director Erich Martens said.

Already this spring, baseball, golf, track and many other activities were canceled, as were winter tournaments, competitions that bring in 80% of the league's revenue.

Combined, Martens said it's resulted in a half-million-dollar deficit.

"What happens if you get into the fall and you lose out on another season, the fall season? What would that do for the organization financially? If everything stays the same, we can anticipate another $1.5 million loss from fall sports, if those don’t happen," Martens said.

The league is raising school membership fees this fall, something that was being discussed long before COVID-19.

In a normal year, that would bring in at least $600,000, Martens said.

"That was a concerted effort by our board to rightsize and pull some of the weight off our tournaments and sponsorships and put it back on our member schools," he added.

Zea understands the financial strains, but also knows the league needs officials and has focused hard to retain them, and this doesn't sit well.

"Something is wrong, it’s not right and that’s the way I feel about it," he said.

The MSHSL executive board will discuss its financial situation at a meeting Wednesday morning.