MARLBOROUGH — For the second time in MIAA history, a special state-wide meeting of schools was called, this time to vote on a proposal that would change the structure of high school football in Massachusetts. According to the agenda, voting was scheduled for Friday at 10:40 a.m., but at 10:10 a.m. Somerset Berkley athletic director Kim DoCouto stood in front of an eager crowd full of coaches, principals, and athletic directors to announce that the proposal had passed, 161-131.
As she drove out of the parking lot at Assabet Regional a short time later, Kathleen McSweeney, MIAA tournament management committee chair and Plymouth North principal, was stunned that such an important meeting ended so quickly and with an outcome she cheered.
“It shows that the MIAA effectively communicated this proposal and everyone understood,” McSweeney said. “I’m psyched! It’s been a long time coming but I think this is going to be great for the kids and the community.”
Out of the 371 MIAA member schools, 292 voted Friday. David Stratton, athletic director at Agawam, voted for the proposal and it’s believed many Western Mass and Central Mass schools did the same, as opposed to 2010 when a similar proposal was defeated. The ballot only indicated which schools had voted, not how they voted.
Under the new proposal six state champions will be crowned instead of 19. The most controversial part of the plan was the scheduling of games and how that will affect certain teams as well as Thanksgiving rivalries.
In the new system, effective in the fall of 2013, all league games must be played within the first seven weeks of the season. The obstacle for coaches now is composing those schedules.
“This pilot program for two years will really give us a good opportunity to see how it all works out,” said Alex Campea, athletic director and football coach at Catholic Memorial. “I’m sure [the proposal] can be tweaked and improved as we go forward, but overall it should generate some excitement in high school football.”
The issue for many schools that were against the proposal is the traditional Thanksgiving rivalries. Teams will now play their Thanksgiving rivals twice in a season, and that certainly doesn’t sit well for Wellesley, which has the oldest Thanksgiving Day rivalry in the state against Needham.
“To take that game and now say it doesn’t count towards anything, it’s just a scrimmage at this point, that’s a little bit of a problem as far as I’m concerned,” declared John Brown, Wellesley athletic director. “We’re going to play it – it’s still going to be a tradition and still going to be history. The kids will still be excited to play Needham, but to not have it count for anything? That’s disappointing.”
Malden athletic director Dan Keefe had a similar sentiment toward the proposal.
“If this is what they have passed, then so be it,’’ he said. “We don’t want to come across as sour grapes, so we’ll figure it out and make the best of it.
“Change is tough for many people and many reasons. For us, it is hundreds of years of tradition at stake. Not only is it the 125 years between Malden and Medford, but it’s 118 years with Everett and nearly 100 years with Somerville.’’
Due to low participation rates, many city schools were also against the proposal.
“I can understand why they would want to do it because there are a lot of teams that end up with one loss or two losses but they are still a good team but get eliminated from postseason play as result of not winning their conference,” said Burke coach Byron Beaman. “But it just doesn’t benefit us at this time.’’
While many are left dissatisfied, the optimism for the 161 member schools that voted in favor of the proposal is that it’s a step in the right direction. Many other states – and even other MIAA tournaments – have a similar playoff structure, so why not do it?
“I’m very excited, this is great for high school football,” exclaimed Masconomet coach Jim Pugh. “I tip my hat to those coaches that put in all the time and effort, and the help of MIAA to come up with the proposal. They deserve all the credit.”
It surely will be a challenge for all schools, even those who voted yes, to adapt this new system. But in the larger realm, the proposal makes the most sense moving forward.
“I’m very grateful for those who supported it,” said Charlie Stevenson, athletic director and football coach at Xaverian. “I hope that those who were not in support of it see after participating for a couple of years that it really is a good opportunity for student-athletes, which is the most important thing.”