North Dakota high school football conferences will look a little different in 2021, and Dickinson High recently opted down from the highest division to compete in 11A next fall.

Many of Dickinson’s current Western Dakota Association foes will compete in 11AA next season, and the only team from their schedule this year that will be in their conference next fall is Jamestown.

Dickinson was assigned 11AA for 2021 originally, but they were given the option to opt down, and they did so along with Grand Forks Central.

Their new 12 team conference will consist of them, the Knights, Grand Forks Red River, Fargo North, Fargo South, Jamestown, Watford City, Devils Lake, Valley City, Wahpeton, Bismarck St. Mary’s and Turtle Mountain.

“There was a points system and criteria set up in the new plan, and we were one of two teams that was low enough in the points system to be able to opt down,” Dickinson High activities director Guy Fridley who is also on the North Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors said. “We felt that was the best fit for us overall. Having competitive balance is important in anything you do and 11A gives us the best opportunity. It is going to be a great league with Grand Forks Central, Red River and Fargo North and South. Just because it is down a level doesn’t mean it is going to be easy. We are looking forward to the new challenge and playing some new teams.”

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In 11AA, Williston will be joined by Minot, Century, Legacy, Bismarck and Mandan from the west and West Fargo Sheyenne, West Fargo, Fargo Davies, and Shanley from the east.

Shanley opted up, while Fargo North and South were assigned to 11A with the option to opt up, but they decided to stay in 11A.

Divisions such as east and west within 11AA and 11A have yet to be set, but Fridley believes that they will come together in the near future.

As for Dickinson High, he says that he is excited about the new opportunity and challenge ahead.

“We just feel that it is important that we give our kids an opportunity to be successful and I think playing these teams doesn't guarantee success, but it does provide us with a chance to have more success in a longer given period of time,” Fridley said. “I can’t remember the last time we hosted a home playoff game. I love our community and we want people to be able to come and see Dickinson host a playoff game. That gives us a better opportunity to give that option for our families and patrons in Dickinson.”

The amount of conference games versus non-conference games that will be played next fall has yet to be determined as well, and there is a chance the NDHSAA could use a quality results formula (QRF) that Minnesota already uses to determine playoff teams if non-conference games are played.

In 11AA, all schools could play each other and not have any non-conference games due to having ten teams, but that is not the case for 11A.

Fridley says that rivalries will come together based on competitiveness in the new league, but Dickinson and others could have a short stay in 11A.

They hope this new endeavor leads to success which could lead to them being bumped up to 11AA.

“This isn’t a division that we opted to go, because we thought it may be easy on us. That had no bearing whatsoever,” Fridley said. “It was more for competitive balance and where our kids will have a better opportunity to succeed. I think that is what any program wants to do. That is the direction we went, and with the new format, if we are successful then we will be bumped back up to 11AA. We aren’t stuck there.”