A little more than a week after the MIAA’s Board of Directors approved a full state tournament for the 2021 spring season, the Tournament Management Committee started to tackle the logistics in a virtual meeting Thursday morning.
In short: It isn’t going to be as simple as just adding two games to the end of the season.
Earlier this month the TMC approved parameters for an “opt-in” sectional-only tournament structure. Included in that proposal was a cutoff date of June 15 for qualifying records, with hopes of having the postseason completed two weeks later.
The board unanimously passed the sectional tournament proposal, then last week voted 14-7 in favor of extending the postseason to include state semifinal and championship rounds. In doing so, the board maintained the June 15 cutoff while also voting the spring postseason can go as late as July 3 – a timeline it had approved last August when it passed the temporary four-season sports calendar for the 2020-21 school year.
During Thursday’s meeting, the TMC saw a sample timeline of potential tournament dates. But, as committee chair Jim O’Leary cautioned, “We all know these look good on paper.”
As with any spring season, weather issues can play havoc with the best-laid plans. But there are concerns unique to playing tournaments at the end of an abbreviated season during a pandemic. The TMC received a joint letter from Districts 1, 2 and 3 — representing schools in Central and Western Mass. — praising the committee’s work while also citing potential issues such as COVID restrictions and the compact nature of the postseason schedule.
“I would say there is a high number of schools in the Central — District 2 and 3 — and definitely the West, that may not be able to participate in a tournament this spring, for a number of reasons,” Monty Tech athletic director Dave Reid said.
The districts also are concerned about pushing the postseason into July – including the impact on fiscal year budgets, as well as conflicts for families with vacations, camps and other activities.
“Schools just want to get done way before [July 1],” Reid said.
All six Board of Directors representatives from Districts 1-3 were among the seven “no” votes last week, a sign of the continuing “fracture” of the MIAA membership along geographical lines.
“I think that we have done so much work to try to unify the state over the last year and a half, especially with the statewide tournament,” Westborough AD Johanna DiCarlo said. “I do think there still is some concern that we are operating as Eastern Mass., and then everything west of [Interstate] 495.
“The sentiment expressed by those people in the Central and West were valid. We are one state, we’re not separate organizations, west of 495. That certainly didn’t feel like that was the case in [the board’s] decision.”
Wahconah AD Jared Shannon wondered how receptive an Eastern Mass. school would be to travel, to say, Pittsfield, to play the Taconic baseball team, which won the Division 3 state title in 2019 and could host throughout as the top seed..
“I’m going to tell you right now, nobody’s going to want to travel out here,” he said.
In a sample timeline shared with the TMC, play-in rounds could begin June 18-19 with the tournament running through state finals as late as July 3. But much of that depends on how many teams opt into a particular sectional bracket. Some sports — notably lacrosse, baseball, softball and tennis — have sections ranging from the mid-30s to as many as 53 teams.
With no way of knowing exactly how big a particular section might be before the June 2 “opt-in” date, TMC members agreed the timelines could be adjusted within the June 15-July 3 window, and potentially shortened if a small number of teams take part.
“We’ll deal with the larger brackets if it comes to that point,” O’Leary said.
Burlington AD Shaun Hart said it was important to listen to all those who were passionate in their pleas to the MIAA to allow for state tournaments to happen.
“If the kids are important, and getting them to play in a state championship was ultimately the most important thing we could do,” Hart said, “then it’s our job in building the tournament to do it in a safe manner that provides an experience for the kids.”
Jim Clark can be reached at email@example.com.