November is knocking at the door. That means so too is the stretch run of the high school football season — or at least it used to. This year, it’s already playoff time because of the MIAA’s new playoff system.
And while the goal of the revamped format was for the postseason to be more inclusive, there are 81 teams — seven with winning records — that will be on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin Friday night.
Those teams aren’t going home for the winter, but instead will be playing games in the non-qualifiers bracket. That schedule was announced Sunday for EMass and CMass schools. Western Massachusetts will do their pairings next week.
With the playoffs out of sight, teams will be playing what amounts to exhibition games to close out their schedules, with the traditional Thanksgiving Day game as the finale. That has coaches from non-qualifying teams, such as Brockton, worried about whether players will lose interest with nothing to play for.
“We do [have concerns],” said coach Peter Colombo, whose Boxers (3-4, 1-1) came in second in the Big Three after losing to New Bedford on Saturday. Brockton also finished just 0.57 points behind the eighth and final qualifier in Division 1 South, Catholic Memorial.
“We have to talk to the kids about these things. But they still have to go about doing things the best they can. Our season is what it is. Teams deal with the reality of not making the playoffs all the time at different times throughout the year. Lots of teams know they’re not going to the Super Bowl much earlier in the season.”
Colombo insisted his team’s mentality for the remainder of the season would not change. The goal is still to win.
“Talking to my assistants [after the loss to New Bedford], you commiserate about it and then you talk about tomorrow,” he said. “It’s the same thing every team does, you have a task at the end of the week.
“We will continue to teach. We can finish the season with wins, we will continue to coach the same way.”
Elsewhere in the South, BC High athletic director Jon Bartlett, chair of the South non-qualifier scheduling committee, said the process went smoothly but they “had received a few appeals,” all of which will be heard Monday.
In the North, Georgetown is appealing its game with Shawsheen, but that was the only appeal, according to Dracut athletic director Tim Woods, who oversaw the scheduling of the North non-qualifiers on Sunday. He said things went smoothly, despite it being new territory for everybody involved.
He did acknowledge, however, there will be teams that are unhappy being on the outside looking in.
“I think half the people will like it and half will hate it,” Woods said of the system. “I think it’s here to stay. I love the traditionally weak teams in the playoffs. But people on the edge are very upset.”
“We said we were going to have to look at things and see whether it was fair,” said Colombo. “A couple of teams we handled well are in the playoffs. When you look at head-to-head, some teams with similar records are in and we’re out.”
But Colombo isn’t dwelling on the negatives of the system. There is still football to be played and lessons to be taught.
“Life goes on today,” he said. “My goal every day is to help my kids be better on and off the field.”