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High school football postseason dramatically changed

34 STRAIGHT WINS AND COUNTING — Sean McCarthy directed Duxbury to a 14-7 overtime victory over Hingham. Schools, C7-9.

brian feulner for the globe

34 STRAIGHT WINS AND COUNTING — Sean McCarthy directed Duxbury to a 14-7 overtime victory over Hingham. Schools, C7-9.

MARLBOROUGH — The state’s high schools have a new football playoff system after members at an MIAA special meeting voted 161-131 in favor of the proposal Friday at Assabet Regional.

The plan will go into effect next fall and dramatically affect each of the 290 schools with football programs in Massachusetts. The next step is divisional alignments and the appeals process. The MIAA football committee will meet Nov. 6 to begin that process. Appeals could be heard in February.

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The meeting, just the second special meeting in MIAA history, began at 9 a.m. but the planned question and answer time was met with murmurs of “vote, vote” throughout the auditorium. With few questions, it was time to vote and less than an hour later, the state had a new playoff system.

“I think it’s a great day for student-athletes who play football, said Grafton principal and MIAA football committee chairman Jim Pignataro. “I think it’s a very positive day for the kids.”

MIAA executive director Dick Neal agreed, pointing to the increased participation that results from the plan.

‘I think it’s a great day for student-athletes who play football

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“I think from a fan’s point of view, the culmination of six championship contests that represent schools from throughout the state, is more appealing than 19 regional championships, which to the average fan can be confusing,’’ said Neal.

Increased participation is one of many changes:

Schools in Eastern and Central Massachusetts will play a seven-week regular season before beginning the playoffs. Western Mass. schools will play an eight-week regular season.

Teams that don't make the playoffs will have their remaining three games determined by a scheduling committee before playing their traditional Thanksgiving game.

There will be six state champions in six divisions with all title games played at Gillette Stadium. Central and Western Mass. schools will compete in Divisions 2, 4, 5, and 6.

Only 12 schools will play after Thanksgiving compared with 74 last fall. The Tuesday semifinals and three games in 10 days has been eliminated.

League and Thanksgiving games will remain intact but the format includes a suggestion that leagues schedule games from the last week of the qualification period backward.

Leagues with five schools or more will get two playoff teams plus the possibility of more based on power ratings.

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Division 3 in both North and South will be split into Northeast/Northwest and Southeast/Southwest divisions. 

The vote was a huge victory for the coaches, who tweaked the proposal that was voted down in 2010 and brought back more than a year ago. Swampscott’s Steve Dembowski, Fitchburg’s Ray Cosenza, and Xaverian’s Charlie Stevenson were among the coaches who spent hours working on the plan. And there were smiles all around after the vote was announced by Somerset Berkley athletic director Kim DoCouto, who is chairman of the MIAA’s sportsmanship committee that was responsible for tallying the vote.

But there were some concerns. Wellesley athletic director John Brown said he felt the proposal changed his school’s annual game with Needham, the oldest high school Thanksgiving rivalry in the country, into a “scrimmage” because the teams will play twice in the season. With the playoff teams chosen after a seven-week regular season, Brown is concerned the vote turned a historic game, often with playoff implications, into a meaningless exhibition. He wasn’t alone in his Thanksgiving concerns.

Everett athletic director and football coach John DiBiaso expressed concern about scheduling and the Greater Boston League, like many EMass leagues, will meet to discuss the new plan in the weeks ahead.

The first MIAA Super Bowls were held in 1972, replacing the Class championships. The Class winners were determined by a ratings system, but there were no postseason games. In 1972, the system was modified and the top two teams in Division 1 (Brockton and Newton) and Division 2 (Swampscott and Catholic Memorial) played in the first EMass Super Bowls.

The ratings system was used from 1972-90, when the calculator was replaced by league champions. Until Friday’s vote, that was the last significant change to football’s postseason.

“I thought it was very helpful that so many of schools took the time to vote,’’ said Neal, who presided over a Board of Directors meeting immediately following the vote. “It assured that the outcome would be of higher quality than if any smaller committee of the association voted on behalf of the schools that sponsor football. Everyone who sponsors football had the opportunity to come and register their vote. That’s the democratic process.’’

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At the board meeting that followed, the MIAA took a unanimous vote that resulted in Gardner forfeiting 11 boys’ soccer games. This follows news earlier in the week that Gardner would forfeit its 2012 girls’ swim sectional title.

Bob Holmes can be reached at rholmes@globe.com

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