High school athletes and coaches across Massachusetts celebrated last week’s decision by the MIAA’s Board of Directors to approve sectional tournaments for the 2021 spring season. But they also pushed for the opportunity to take it a step – or two – further.
During a half-hour virtual meeting Wednesday, the board granted their wish, voting 14-7 to extend the postseason to state semifinal and championship rounds. The board also voted 18-3 to maintain a June 15 cutoff date for the spring regular season. The MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee, which is scheduled to meet March 25, will act on the board votes to develop postseason play within those guidelines.
Wednesday’s vote means this spring will feature the first state tournament play since last March, when basketball and hockey state finals were canceled at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also marks a victory for spring student-athletes and coaches who had advocated for a full experience this spring after their entire season was wiped out in 2020.
“There’s a lot of collective joy . . . I think the joy is now magnified,” said Needham boys’ volleyball coach Dave Powell, who was one of the loudest voices in support of a full state tournament.
Last Friday the board passed the TMC’s recommendation to hold “opt-in” sectional tournaments, but delayed voting on additional state tournament games, instead voting to send out a survey to member schools.
According to MIAA executive director Bill Gaine, a total of 245 responses – 192 from athletic directors (roughly 57 percent of those in the state) and 53 from school principals – were received by the MIAA office as of 8 a.m. Wednesday. The anonymous survey didn’t ask participants to identify their school, so it was possible for a school to have a response in both categories.
Of those responses, 216 indicated their school teams would intend to opt into postseason play. However, 141 responses opposed any changes to the TMC’s established cutoff dates of June 15 for the regular season and June 30 for the end of the postseason.
An additional question, asking if member schools would like to see the spring season start earlier than April 26, received 187 negative responses and only 58 in favor.
The board approved a spring season window of April 26 to July 3 when it established the temporary four-season schedule for the 2020-21 school year because of the pandemic.
Of the 14 “yes” votes in favor of state championships, 13 were from Eastern Mass. districts, with Case principal Brian McCann the only dissent. The six representatives of Districts 1-3 in Central and Western Mass. also voted against the motion, which was put forth by Cambridge AD Tom Arria.
Gaine told the board that there is no model for how the tournament needs to be structured, and that playing consecutive days in many sports could be an option. He cited the “flexibility” shown by the board, TMC and all schools and committees throughout the pandemic, and urged voting members to take that into consideration.
“What we’re really commissioned to do is provide opportunities for our student-athletes. But in this case, the mantra is safety,” Gaine said. “But we don’t control the definition of safety for what’s going to happen in 2½ months, but we do control opportunity. And the ultimate is going to be, because this is modeled on opt-in [or] opt-out, that the school can opt out, any time.”
Arlington Catholic athletic director Dan Shine, who voted “yes” on both motions, cited the survey results behind the desire to not change the TMC’s established cutoff dates.
“I think the membership has spoken regarding the dates, based on the [survey],” Shine said before the vote. “It’s 187-58 that they don’t want to change the dates. If we were to support a state semifinal and final, it has to be done between those dates. And if it can’t be done between those dates, then we have to look at another option.”
Duxbury AD Thom Holdgate, who co-chaired the COVID-19 Task Force, was one of the three “no” votes on maintaining the cutoff date. Holdgate told the Globe he is concerned about the time needed.
“I am a little worried about sports that are dependent on good [or] OK weather — tennis, softball, baseball — being able to be played in that tight window,” Holdgate said. “I am also worried about possible heat issues as we get into late June, but as most schools will be out by then, games could be played in the late morning to alleviate that issue.”
Brookline AD Peter Rittenburg also asked during the meeting about the viability of some parts of the timeline.
“This looks like it could work for some sports,” he said, while further wondering how contact sports such as lacrosse or rugby would work with the rest days needed.
Mount Greylock AD Lindsey von Holtz, who made the motion to maintain the June 15 cutoff, said, “I think it was pretty clear, in those two [survey] questions and the comments, that nobody wants the regular season touched any more than it already has been.”
In the end, athletes and coaches are just happy to get the opportunity to play.
“I’m glad that the Board of Directors saw this as an opportunity to give these kids something that they’ve lost in their lives over the last year,” said Powell, who helped organize a rally Tuesday at MIAA headquarters in Franklin that drew more than 100 participants.
Powell and senior captain Owen Fanning also spoke during last Friday’s virtual board meeting, and Fanning started an online petition that garnered more than 5,000 signatures.
Said MIAA president Jeffrey Granatino in a statement: “I’m glad that the collective work of our Board of Directors, Covid-19 Task Force and Tournament Management Committee has allowed for us to not only have an upcoming spring season, but one which will provide for a sectional and statewide tournament. It has not been an easy task but it is one that has always the best interests of our student-athletes in mind.”
Globe correspondent Brandon Chase contributed.
Jim Clark can be reached at email@example.com.