FRANKLIN — In less than a minute Tuesday afternoon, the MIAA’s Board of Directors approved to adopt National Federation rules for football, girls’ and boys’ volleyball, and baseball for the 2019-20 school year.
The 10-1 vote, with one abstention, followed a 19-0 decision by the association’s Tournament Management Committee in March to use NFHS rules for all eligible sports, eliminating any inconsistencies — and risk of possible litigation.
“Change is hard,” acknowledged Bill Gaine, executive director of the MIAA. “Under the association, individually, this [change] has happened with half the sports. There has been backlash. But slowly, slowly, it has evolved . . . The unanimous vote by the TMC was significant.”
The opinions, inside and outside the Neal Room, and before and after the board’s first monthly meeting for 2018-19, were hardly unanimous.
Currently, only Massachusetts and non-parochial schools in New York utilize NCAA (women’s) volleyball rules. In football, the Bay State and Texas stand alone with the NCAA. On the diamond, coaches must be versed in the federation, NCAA, and Major League rulebooks. The change to federation rules will include the implementation of a pitch count, decided by the baseball committee.
Representing the officials on the MIAA volleyball committee, Ted Wilcox told the board in his allotted three (plus) minutes that the transition from NCAA (and USA Volleyball) rules would be devastating.
His primary concern: having enough officials up to speed on the rule changes by 2019.
“Who is going to train us?” asked Wilcox, who officiates NCAA and high school games.
Wilcox said the discussion will start after an NCAA training session for officials scheduled Saturday in Waltham.
Seated alongside, Sean MacDonald, girls’ coach at perennial Division 3 power Frontier Regional, as well as a certified official, noted “there are uniforms that are legal this year that will not be legal next year . . . let’s use the rules that are currently in place.”
MacDonald and Wilcox asked that the vote be postponed, stating that the issue deserved more discussion, contending that the volleyball committee had not been informed of the change. But with an eye on budgeting for 2019-20, Westford superintendent James Antonelli said it was important to start the process.
Representing the TMC , St. John’s Prep AD Jim O’Leary said football, volleyball, and baseball were the sports that were not consistent with the other MIAA sports.
“[The federation] addresses sportsmanship, and health and safety, in a specific way,” he said.
Legally, the TMC also had been advised that the MIAA could face the risk of a lawsuit without consistency in its rules policies.
“We need to be proactive here,” he said.
In volleyball, the NCAA and National Federation currently align on 91 of 116 rules, according to O’Leary.
Speaking directly to Wilcox and MacDonald, Gaine said, “Advocates, folks like you, we need you badly, all in the best interests of our kids.”
Afterward, Wilcox was still very concerned with the training aspect. But he was encouraged that the MIAA is willing to work with the volleyball committee, and others, on the transition. Modifications, prevalent in rule changes in other sports, will be considered.