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MIAA’s statewide tournament proposal would be a game-changer

FRANKLIN — The starting point, voiced by the 380 members of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association in November, 2016, was “the inconsistencies” of the state tournaments.

Football has eight divisions, field hockey has two, and so on.

The seeding process varies sport by sport.

There is no equal path to a state final for a team from North (Burlington) and another from West (Lee).

Like-sized schools, in enrollment, are not competing in the same division.

But a statewide tournament for all sports? “This is not where we thought that this would go,” said Jim O’Leary, chair of the MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee.


But a proposal for a statewide tourney authored by the TMC — and already having received a thumbs up from the association’s Board of Directors — is headed for a vote by the full membership, likely on target for the last week of February (the board will finalize the date at its monthly meeting on Wednesday).

O’Leary, along with fellow TMC members Johanna DiCarlo (Westborough High), Shaun Hart (Burlington), and Sherry Bryant, associate director of the MIAA, unveiled the proposal in a two-hour informational and Q&A session with the media on Thursday afternoon.

If approved, with implementation in the fall of 2021, it will be the most dramatic game-changer in postseason play since the association’s formation in 1978.

“We think that this will generate a lot of excitement, with the best crowds, and the best atmosphere,” said DiCarlo.

Added Hart, “Attendance [at tournaments] is already down, we are hoping that this draws extra attention. It will be an event.”

Yes, there will be excitement. But judging by the tenor in the room on Thursday, there are still many questions to be answered, and many concerns — with a high percentage emanating from the West and Central sections, beyond Route 495. The elimination, for instance, of the longstanding West and Central tournaments, will not be received warmly.


For many, the obstacle is the unknown. As Hart has noted, “We can’t tell you every detail about a tournament that we have never run . . . but you have to have faith.”

The TMC has worked tirelessly for two years to craft and shape their proposal. They have run drafts by principals, athletic directors, and coaches, presented ideas at district workshops across the state, and have an upcoming sitdown with superintendents (travel, and the impact on school budgets, is a concern).

The education process will continue over the next five weeks until the membership vote. The key points:

■ All sports will qualify the top 32 teams in each division, in addition to those teams that meet the 50 percent qualifying criteria (league championships carry no weight). Using baseball, which fields 333 varsity programs statewide, under a five division format, 48 percent (160 teams) of the programs would qualify.

■  All teams will be power seeded by MaxPreps, through its proprietary software system. (MIAA will begin using MaxPreps next fall.)

■  MaxPreps does not calculate ties, so each sport committee will have to develop a tiebreaking process, such as the introduction by a few hockey leagues/conferences this winter of an overtime period on a two-year pilot program.

■  The top four seeded teams will be placed in four brackets (think NCAA Regionals).

■  All games will be at the home site of the higher seed for preliminary-round play, the round of 32, round of 16, and round of 8. The semifinals and finals will be at neutral sites.


■  The starting point is five divisions per sport, but ultimately, divisional breakdowns will be decided by the sport specific committees (with football likely the outlier). And with new divisional alignments on target for 2021 anyway, that process is already underway.

■  In preliminary/first-round play, all revenue remains with the host school. For the round of 16, there is revenue share with the MIAA. In the state quarters, semifinals, and finals, all revenue (and expenses) goes to the MIAA.

“Winning percentage [as a qualifier] is not working,” said Hart. “We do not think that MaxPreps is the end all, be all. There will be modifications. But this is a starting point.”

There is much work ahead, in advance of the vote, and if approved, the sprint to 2021.

Craig Larson can be reached at craig.larson@globe.com.