A significant challenge to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s switch to a new set of football rules arose this week when South Shore Vocational Technical High decided not to play Friday’s game against West Bridgewater because of a disagreement over the length of the quarters.
Hanover-based South Shore wanted to play 10-minute quarters in keeping with a decision by the Mayflower Conference to bypass the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations adopted by the MIAA this season. West Bridgewater, also a Mayflower Conference member, wanted to play 12-minute quarters as required by the NFHS so it wouldn’t jeopardize its ability to qualify for the postseason.
The Mayflower Conference voted twice in meetings over the summer to shorten the length of quarters for its league games to 10 minutes, as it has done for the past 30 years, and requested a waiver from the MIAA. The conference, which has 12 football teams, based its actions over concerns for player safety, but the request was denied.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, we know our kids and we know it’s not safe,’’ said Joseph Marani, South Shore’s athletic director. “The extra time adds about two games’ worth of time to our season. Common sense can tell you the risk is greater.”
The conference’s request was based on non-specific language in the MIAA rule book regarding the lengths of quarters. Rule 69, Article 4, Section 3 states: “The maximum time of quarters shall not exceed 12 minutes.”
According to Marani, MIAA associate director Richard Pearson said, “The language in the blue book was not meant as it is written.”
Pearson said an appeal by the Mayflower Conference, which is made up mostly of schools in the state’s smallest football division (Division 8), will be heard by the MIAA board of directors Thursday.
“The request is for the league to play 10-minute quarters during conference games, agree to play 12-minute quarters when traveling to nonconference schools, and offer to play 12-minute quarters during nonconference games hosted at MAC schools. The appeal has been placed on the MIAA Board of Directors agenda for the upcoming meeting on Sept. 26, 2019,” Pearson wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.
The issue is also on the agenda for the MIAA’s Football Committee, scheduled to meet Thursday morning, according to chair Jim O’Leary.
Marani was unhappy with the timing of West Bridgewater’s request to play 12-minute quarters in Friday’s game at West Bridgewater and detailed his concerns in a letter to school officials.
“As a member of this league, your school has a responsibility to abide by the consensus reached during two procedural votes,” Marani wrote. “The timing of your concern allows no recourse for those league members who have already abided by that established consensus. I can understand the risk of being penalized and the public fallout it could create . . . However, the potential of losing an entire league schedule is harder to explain when the logic is not grounded in the best interest of student safety.”
West Bridgewater played 12-minute quarters in its nonleague season opener against Saint John Paul II. In the only other Mayflower Conference game scheduled Friday — Atlantis Charter at Holbrook/Avon — 12-minute quarters were played, although Holbrook/Avon coach Randy Grimmett told the Globe earlier Friday that 10-minute quarters were planned.
“We received a letter from South Shore letting us know its intention to forfeit,’’ West Bridgewater athletic director Jennifer Hammel said. “Coach Justin Kogler informed the team at its pasta dinner last night. While disappointed, West Bridgewater will continue to follow the MIAA rules.”
Mayflower Conference president Jason Pacheco, who is the athletic director at Westport, outlined his intentions for the appeal Thursday.
“The three points I plan on making are what is written in the handbook, that multiple games have been played with shorter than 12-minute quarters already, and that the MIAA Super Bowls are usually 10 minutes,” Pacheco said. “We tried to do things the right way.”
It is uncertain what the consequences will be for teams that continue to go against MIAA rules.
“The MIAA hasn’t said what the punishment would be, they’re creating this,’’ Pacheco said. “It’s unfortunate the MIAA pits our own schools against each other. I’m unhappy and upset, but I don’t fault either school. I fault the state for putting us in such a gray area.”
According to the MIAA football tournament format that was updated in August, the state championship games played at Gillette Stadium will have 10-minute quarters.
The MIAA approved a timing change this season because of a player safety concern. In a Week 2 game in the Bay State Conference, Framingham hosted Milton in a game that was moved to 3:45 p.m. because the area was at critical risk for Eastern Equine Encephalitis. The MIAA, along with ADs from both schools, agreed to play 11-minute quarters to allow the game to finish by nightfall.
“We went through days of negotiations and found out on Thursday it was deemed acceptable to shorten the quarters,” said Framingham athletic director Paul Spear. “We didn’t want any sanctions and it was an emergency measure. I’m not sure how we would have got the game in with 12-minute quarters.”
Milton coach Steve Dembowski was critical of the MIAA’s move to NFHS rules.
“The changes were not made to benefit the kids, they were made to benefit the MIAA,” Dembowski said. “Most coaches didn’t want these rules, it was a drastic amount of changes and schools lost control of the rules.”
Fatigue was a factor in Holbrook/Avon’s 27-21 win on Friday night, said Grimmett. “We have a very small team so there’s a lot of people playing both ways, a lot of people playing on most or all of our special teams . . . 48 minutes of never coming off of the field is a lot.”
Atlantis Charter coach Chuck Phillips said safety is the No. 1 priority. “Not that they forget about safety, but the MIAA is not going to stop teams from playing in the playoffs because they played 10-minute quarters and that’s what people need to realize. This is being done to keep kids safe.”
Craig Larson of the Globe staff and correspondent Steve Sousa also contributed. Dan Shulman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.