MIAA football tourney plan clears another hurdle

FRANKLIN, Mass. -- The possibility of a statewide football championship in Massachusetts took another leap forward this morning.

In what was the second consecutive day of meetings for the MIAA Football Committee and the MIAA Tournament Management Committee on a proposed statewide tournament, voters once again favored the proposition with a 10-4 vote at the MIIA headquarters in Franklin. Combined with a 15-2 sanction by the football committee yesterday, the plan -- which cuts 19 regional winners down to six divisional state champs -- will move to the the board of directors for review in June.

“Every kid or coach who puts the work in wants the chance to get in and you have that opportunity by having a successful pre-qualification period,” said Swampscott football coach Steve Dembowski. “Obviously today's approval plus the endorsing of the finance committee are a big plus. (The board of directors) can decide that they don't like it or they can decide they do like it and want to implement it.”

Concerns were aired about the proposal during the meeting, but no official changes were made . Tantasqua principal Michael Lucas, Dracut athletic director Tim Woods, Malden principal Dana Brown, and Belmont athletic director James Davis all voted against the plan.

Opposition noted problems with the value of the Thanksgiving rivalry, the system assigning divisions and schedules, revenue sharing, the shortening of in-conference games, and the philosophical change of playing regular season matchups during the postseason.

“[Leagues] do not like that they will not know their last three opponents of the year and are sketchy about traveling to East Oshkosh to play teams they have never played before,” said Woods. “Had the football committee spent more time with individual athletic directors they may have overcome some of those fears. If you are going to have a league championship you are going to do it without playing all the teams in your league.”

The intended method would maintain Thanksgiving rivalries, while allowing leagues to schedule their first seven games. A scheduling committee would fill the remaining games for non-qualifying teams based of competitiveness.

Each squad nets revenue from five-and-a-half games, an equal average to the current 11 game regular season. Playoffs run from weeks eight to 13, excluding 11 and 12, with the top two teams in each division facing off at Gillette Stadium in the final week.

The same number of teams will play in the arena as did the previous season.

“If a team knows they are going to be playing in Gillette Stadium the week after, then why are they going to risk their varsity players on the field,” Woods said. “It becomes scrimmage.”

“We have been in the [playoffs] ten times and, even when we played the Super Bowl, it was not the same as the Thanksgiving game against Leominster.” argued Ray Cosenza, Fitchburg athletic director and former football coach.

Similar to other state tournaments, regions will be split into North, South, Central and West, with the later two not competing in Divisions 1 or 3. Leagues larger than five teams will be granted an additional playoff spot, along with available wild cards for all schools based off a regional power ranking system.

“By dissolving Division Three you are going to have schools half the size of other schools playing each other in the playoffs,” Brown said. “They split the third division by moving teams up or down a division and bumped down schools in the first division. Now, you have Division Three teams playing top division schools.”

The four-year plan, which would initiate next season, can be reviewed in two years with the availability of change.

“Two things we are going to keep an eye on are the scheduling committee to make sure they are serving their division and the power rating,” said retiring MIAA deputy director Bill Gaine. “We have already had it tested in the west for a dozen years, but not in the east. We think it is going to work, but we have to make sure it does.”