The MIAA Tournament Management Committee approved proposals of eight divisions for football, and four divisions for boys’ hockey, for the statewide tournament format beginning in fall 2021.
Where will teams be aligned within those divisions? That still needs to be determined.
During a virtual meeting Monday that lasted more than three hours, the TMC rejected alignment proposals for football and boys’ hockey. The TMC approved the alignment proposal for girls’ hockey, which will continue with two divisions, and also approved the football committee proposal for an eight-week regular season with 16-team statewide tournament brackets.
The sticking point for many TMC members was the subjective nature with which both the football and ice hockey committees aligned certain teams. Ultimately, the TMC voted to create separate joint committees with members of the football and ice hockey committees to address the alignment issues further.
Westborough athletic director Johanna DiCarlo, like many TMC members, expressed her appreciation to the football and ice hockey committees for their work on the proposals. However, TMC members wanted the sport committees to follow the guidance in the statewide tournament plan approved by the full MIAA membership in February, with a TMC subcommittee then handling any appeals or individual team movements.
“We all knew this would be a lot of work when we signed up for this,” DiCarlo said. “I would like to see the process play out as we designed it, and then make adjustments [if necessary].”
Football would have had the maximum five divisions based on the TMC criteria, while boys’ hockey (195 teams) would have fallen just below the threshold for four divisions (201-250 teams). However, the TMC guidance allowed that sport committees “continue to be afforded the opportunity to request divisional expansion or alternatives to alignment methods to TMC.”
The TMC voted 11-5-1 to keep football at eight divisions, where it has been since 2016. The vote was 15-0-1 for four divisions in boys’ hockey – essentially expanding the current Division 3A in Central and West to a full statewide Division 4.
Both votes, as well as the full girls’ hockey presentation, generated little discussion. Debate over the alignment processes for football and boys’ hockey alignments dominated the meeting.
The criteria starts with a baseline of school enrollment, then allows “factors” to be applied for parochial schools (up one division), co-operative teams (up one), and vocational schools (down two divisions).
Football committee members said that still left issues with many teams, which they sought to correct.
“Football is a unique sport in that it’s a collision sport,” Franklin Tech AD/football coach Joe Gamache said. “In order to be fair to all athletes across the state, safety is a factor.”
Added Stoneham AD David Pignone: “The easy thing to do would have been to go with eight divisions, let teams fall where they fall, and let it be TMC’s problem.”
However, TMC chair Jim O’Leary, also a football committee member, stressed that subjectivity “can’t be a part of this.”
“We know there are outliers. [But] we have to apply the factors in a uniform and consistent way across the board,” he said.
It was a similar issue for boys’ hockey, which surveyed its 195 host schools to try to gauge where they should be placed. Wellesley AD John Brown, a member of both the TMC and ice hockey committee, said applying only the TMC criteria would have resulted in a large number of traditional powers placed in lower divisions and opting to move up.
"That would throw the alignments all out of whack," Brown said.
Burlington AD Shaun Hart said a strict alignment process was a key part of getting the statewide tournament proposal passed, and cautioned against deviating from that for certain sports.
"Schools that voted for this [can say] in a loud way, we're already changing the way things are done," Hart said.
Added Sandwich superintendent Pamela Gould: "I want to remind everyone, it's about the process for us, it's not the amount of work [by sport committees]."
Wahconah AD Jared Shannon, a member of both the TMC and football committees, said he believes the various TMC alignment factors don’t work equally across all MIAA sports. He expressed his appreciation for both sport committees in trying to get ahead of any potential problems.
“We’re going to hear 60, 80, 100 appeals, based on factors that do not work for [football and hockey],” Shannon said. “I said it before, there were flaws from the start.”