After the cancellation of the entire 2020 spring season because of the coronavirus pandemic, high school sports teams and athletes across Massachusetts will have the opportunity to participate in MIAA-sponsored postseason tournaments this year.
During a virtual meeting Friday afternoon, the MIAA’s board of directors voted, 18-0, to approve sectional tournaments this spring. The board also left open the possibility that the postseason could be expanded to include traditional state semifinals and finals for sectional champions.
The board agreed to survey member schools over the next few days, gauging interest in expanding the postseason to include state tournaments and their willingness to participate. The board will meet again Wednesday afternoon to vote on that piece of the plan.
The vote to approve sectionals was exactly one year after the board of directors had to cancel the basketball and hockey state championships during the outbreak of the pandemic. No MIAA-sponsored postseason play has been held since.
“The fact that we’re going to be able to have at least [sectional tournaments], and possibly a statewide tournament, is tremendous,” said MIAA president Jeffrey Granatino, superintendent of schools in Marshfield. “And I think our spring students do deserve that.”
Executive director Bill Gaine told the board the MIAA had received “widespread communications” from MIAA members and the public in support of a full state tournament.
Friday’s meeting opened with impassioned words from Needham boys’ volleyball coach Dave Powell and senior captain Owen Fanning urging the board to consider giving teams and athletes the opportunity to play the season all the way through the state championship.
On Monday, the MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee voted to recommend holding sectional tournaments only, with schools allowed to opt in or out with no qualifying standards. Wahconah athletic director Jared Shannon, who chaired a TMC subcommittee, told the board the bigger reasons for not recommending a full state tournament included concerns over travel and schools’ ability to participate, as well as the time needed to hold tournaments with the spring season not scheduled to begin until April 26.
“For the sports that can play a full spring season, it would provide about a 5½-week [regular] season before we start a tournament in mid-June,” Shannon said.
Cambridge AD Tom Arria, a member of both the board of directors andCOVID-19 Task Force, praised the TMC’s work in developing the sectional tournament plan while strongly advocating to be able to go the final couple of steps with a state tournament.
“What I think is great about the plan is, it offers something for everybody,” Arria said. “The one thing we have to think about is we’re taking options away from one group of people, and those are the best teams in the state.”
Arria said, as an athletic director, he would want to be able to discuss with his teams whether they want that opportunity, even if it meant playing into early July. He also acknowledged the roughly 100 letters from athletes and coaches urging the board to allow as much tournament play as possible.
“The spring student-athletes, and the spring season, [have] gotten the brunt of this. They really have,” Arria said. “They missed out on everything last year.”
“The sectional tournament is good, it’s a great start. But I think if we can make a full state tournament for them, we try with every bit of ounce of energy to make that happen.”
Among the other questions in the survey will be whether there should be any change to the dates of the spring season, which the board previously approved for April 26-July 3. The TMC proposal would wrap up the postseason no later than June 29.
Brookline AD Peter Rittenburg would like the board to consider allowing overlap with the Fall II season, which runs through April 25.
“I think a lot of us feel like the spring athletes really deserve more,” Rittenburg said. “[Give] student-athletes the opportunity to start playing games in April, because if we start on April 26, we can’t play a contest until May 6. That’s part of the reason that we’re bound to 5½ weeks of a regular season, and we’re trying to squeeze in a postseason.”
The board also unanimously approved all modifications for baseball, track and field, unified track and field, softball, and tennis. Girls’ golf and boys’ volleyball will play under previously approved modifications.
Modifications for boys’ and girls’ lacrosse generated some debate over the Task Force’s recommendation to allow as many as 45 players and six coaches on game-day rosters, but both sports were approved by 18-1 votes.
Rugby modifications passed by a 16-2-1 vote, with most of the debate centering on whether to recommend seven-player games instead of the approved “modified 15s.” Duxbury athletic director Thom Holdgate, co-chair of the task force, said there was some concern from schools about being able to field teams with as many as 15 players, but the task force agreed schools would be allowed to play with reduced rosters if necessary.
Wrestling continues to be a possibility for competition during the spring season, but Holdgate told the board the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is waiting to see a couple of weeks of football — which started across the state Friday — before proceeding.
The board also voted unanimously to end the out-of-season coaching waiver for sports that have been completed this school year.
The COVID-19 Task Force, which has been working on sports modifications since last May, will conclude its business with the spring season. The MIAA is expected to return to its traditional three-season structure beginning in the fall, with the Sports Medicine Committee handling any modifications for recommendations to the Board of Directors going forward.
“The work that you’ve done is immense,” Granatino told task force members, “and we would not have been able to have sports the way we’ve had them.”
Jim Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.