High school athletes in Massachusetts missed an entire season of spring sports in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. So the MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee has taken a critical step toward providing as much of a regular postseason experience as possible in 2021.
During a virtual meeting Wednesday, the TMC voted 12-6-1 to work on developing sectional tournament concepts for the spring season scheduled to begin April 26. An earlier vote to extend the postseason through the state tournament level was defeated by a 14-4 vote.
A subcommittee will explore parameters for sectional tournaments — such as cutoff dates and qualifying standards — and report back to the full TMC on March 8. At that point, the TMC could vote to pass on recommendations to the COVID-19 Task Force and Board of Directors, which are scheduled to meet March 11-12, respectively, to consider and potentially approve modifications for a spring 2021 season.
Wednesday’s vote leaves open the door for the first MIAA-sponsored tournaments since the basketball and hockey state semifinals last March. The state championship games in those sports were canceled, followed by the entire spring season. While sports returned this school year for Fall I and winter, as well as the new Fall II season that began Monday, the TMC and board previously voted not to hold MIAA tournaments in those seasons.
“They want to play the [most] games that we can offer them, but having some type of tournament at the end, I think, in the springtime is more important than it has been all year,” said Burlington athletic director Shaun Hart. “Because you can’t give back what has been taken from some of the kids who graduated. But we can certainly say that we understand it, and giving them the best we can in the spring, they certainly deserve it for what they’ve lost.”
TMC members generally agreed that league tournaments in Fall I and winter sports were an overwhelming success. Michael Devoll, principal at Old Rochester, said he hoped they could serve as a “springboard” to the return of MIAA-sponsored tournaments this spring.
Much of the discussion centered around whether that should be at the sectional level, down to individual leagues or districts, or potentially expanded to a full state tournament.
“Our job as TMC is for us to provide a tournament,” said Wellesley AD John Brown, who voted in favor of both proposals.
St. Mary’s AD Jeff Newhall, who made both motions, believed it was important for the TMC to begin establishing the parameters as soon as possible to allow leagues and ADs to begin planning.
Dennis-Yarmouth principal Paul Funk agreed that it is important to give incentive to spring athletes.
“This was a group of kids that really lost everything,” Funk said. “If you were just a baseball player, or softball player, or lacrosse, you got nothing last year.”
One concern shared by most TMC members is that the tournament should not extend to July 3, which is the end of the spring calendar previously approved by the Board of Directors. Hull AD Scott Paine also said some schools in the South Shore area are hesitant to travel outside of geographic or league bubbles.
Westborough AD Johanna DiCarlo said feedback from Central Mass. was trying to find a balance between teams looking for a tournament experience, while also maximizing opportunities in a shortened season for others that might not qualify or otherwise be able to compete in an MIAA postseason.
“One of the suggestions was, could we have an ‘opt-in’ tournament?” DiCarlo said.
Monty Tech AD Dave Reid, who said District 2 in Central Mass. preferred to stick with regular-season play, was concerned about extending the season too far past the end of classes.
“Keeping kids interested in the tournament may be difficult for a lot of schools,” said Reid, also the longtime softball coach at Monty Tech. “Not all, but most.”
Wahconah AD Jared Shannon, who previously coached baseball, countered that, “I think you’re going to find kids are more engaged because they’ve had such limited opportunities around the state.” Shannon added that it might make it easier to hold tournaments after classes are done, with less risk of transmission in schools, and that he believes it should be up to individual districts or sections to decide what works best.
“I do think that offering some kind of end-of-season sectional tournament makes an awful lot of sense,” he said.
In other business:
▪ The TMC unanimously approved preliminary caps to the margin-of-victory component of the new power ratings formula that will be used to select and seed statewide tournaments beginning in fall 2021.
Sports were grouped based on their scoring rates, with similar cap values for each to maintain consistency. The proposed caps, which will be forwarded to each sport committee for review:
3 goals — Field hockey, ice hockey, soccer
3 matches/sets — Tennis, volleyball (not individual scores of each match/set)
5 runs: — Baseball, softball
10 points/goals — Basketball, lacrosse
14 points — Football, rugby
▪ Preliminary fall sport alignments for the statewide tournament are expected to be published by the MIAA this week. The latest alignments already have gone through an initial appeal process before a three-person review group, but a subcommittee of TMC members and individual sport committee representatives will hear any additional appeals from individual schools.
▪ In its virtual meeting, the MIAA softball committee also expressed concern regarding extending spring sports into early July, citing potential breach of contracts for teachers who are also coaches.
Committee members pointed to the potential of conflicts for student-athletes between high school and club events in the summer, as well as potential family vacations, which created conflicts in some districts ahead of February break.
Despite objections from Boston Public Schools athletic director Avery Esdaile that shortening the season might not be best for all student-athletes, the committee voted to recommend a June 26 end date for the season. The committee also voted to waive the minimum number of games (usually 10) needed to qualify for sectional tournaments, if they are held this year.
Globe correspondent Nate Weitzer also contributed to this report.
Jim Clark can be reached at email@example.com.