When the MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee set the guidelines for the statewide tournament that will begin in fall of 2021, it was anticipated that adjustments might have to be made for certain sports.
One of those widely expected to be an outlier was football.
During a virtual meeting Tuesday afternoon, the MIAA Football Committee approved a pair of motions for a proposed alignment format with eight divisions. Football has been playing with eight divisions since 2016, while the statewide tournament plan — passed by the full MIAA membership in February — called for a maximum of five divisions based on the number of programs in a given sport.
However, as noted in the statewide proposal, “Sport committees continue to be afforded the opportunity to request divisional expansion or alternatives to alignment methods to TMC.”
The football proposal now will be presented to the TMC, which also met virtually Tuesday. The TMC agreed to hear proposals from football and ice hockey on requested division and alignment changes at its next scheduled meeting June 4.
“We lumped football and hockey in with all the other sports to make it a cleaner process [for the statewide vote],” Wahconah athletic director Jared Shannon said during the TMC meeting.
Stoneham athletic director David Pignone was among eight members of the football subcommittee who worked on not only the number of divisions, but also how those divisions would be aligned.
“Eight divisions was unanimous among the subcommittee within an hour of first meeting,” Pignone said, noting that they believed fewer divisions would decrease the number of teams that could participate in postseason.
Joe Gamache, athletic director at Franklin County Tech in Turners Falls, said that football is “unique,” and that the subcommittee was sensitive to creating equal opportunities for players across the state in all divisions.
“Right now we have a dying sport,” Gamache said, advocating for eight divisions. “If we start cutting this down and giving kids [fewer] opportunities to compete, they're going to stop playing."
The subcommittee took several steps in creating its proposed alignment, factoring in adjustments for parochial and vocational schools, as well as co-op programs. Other schools also were moved to create a perceived better fit based on history and strength of program.
The breakdown by divisions would be:
▪ Division 1 (28 teams)
▪ Division 2 (32 teams)
▪ Division 3 (36 teams)
▪ Division 4 (33 teams)
▪ Division 5 (38 teams)
▪ Division 6 (35 teams)
▪ Division 7 (38 teams)
▪ Division 8 (40 teams)
Former St. John’s Prep athletic director Jim O’Leary, who also is chair of the TMC, expressed concern that the movement of teams between divisions was not supposed to be in the scope of individual sport committees. A TMC subcommittee will hear alignment appeals for the statewide tournament.
Under the football proposal, 16 teams in each division statewide would qualify for the postseason.
Both motions passed by 14-0 votes. O’Leary and Shannon, who are members of both the TMC and football committee, abstained on each. The issue was raised during the TMC meeting about the constitutionality of an individual voting on a sport proposal and then on any subsequent appeal before the TMC. Four other TMC members also are part of the Ice Hockey Committee, which meets Thursday to vote on its alignment proposal.
Milton football coach Steve Dembowski also presented a proposal by the Mass. High School Football Coaches Association for a nine-week regular season and only eight playoff teams per division. Other key parts of the proposal would be two mandated bye weeks per team, eliminating the need for consolation games, and restoring the sanctity of Thanksgiving games — which would be part of the regular season again.
“As I was voting for the statewide proposal, my biggest thing was deciding what was right for all student-athletes,” said Shrewsbury athletic director Jay Costa, who supported the proposal. “This is the perfect opportunity to make it perfect.”
Under the proposal, developed based on a survey of coaches statewide, the postseason would not start until after Thanksgiving. Dembowski said that would include a recommended later start to the winter season, which many committee members acknowledged would be a hurdle.
The football committee agreed to form a subcommittee to examine the coaches’ proposal and other options for a football tournament format, to be finalized by March 2021.
Earlier in the day, MIAA associate director Sherry Bryant told the TMC that net receipts from the winter tournaments were projected to be roughly $72,000 less than in 2019, mainly because of the lost gate from the cancellation of the state basketball and hockey finals.
The TMC also tabled discussion of a proposed change to ticket structure for all postseason tournaments, given the uncertainty going forward with the COVID-19 pandemic.