MIAA adopts new football playoff format

MARLBOROUGH, Mass. -- Massachusetts will soon have tried and true champions in high school football.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association called a general assembly meeting Friday morning at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School for the purpose of voting on a statewide football playoff proposal. The present member schools voted 161-131 in favor of the measure, amending the current playoff system which presently concludes with 19 regional Super Bowl games.

Instead, six state championship games will cap the season.

The new alignment will take effect for the 2013 football season and, as approved, will be implemented as a two-year trial.

“I’m really overjoyed with the vote,” said Xaverian head coach and athletic director Charlie Stevenson, a past president of the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA). “I think those of us who’ve been involved in trying to find a formula to have a true state champion in football have not just been doing it for two years, or four years. It’s really been a 10-, 15-year experience in trying to find a solution.

“The key is that we’re trying to find something that the majority was willing to try. This gives our student-athletes who are playing football the equal opportunity of other sports to play in the postseason completion.”

The measure alters the landscape of the state high school football schedule. A three-week playoff bracket will be built into the system.

Here’s how the proposal breaks down:

  • Teams statewide will be placed into six enrollment-based divisions (teams also have the ability to appeal placement).

  • Teams will be power-seeded into sectional playoff brackets following Week 7. Sections are divided into four regions (North, South, Central and West).

  • Teams that fall below the playoff entry criteria will also be power-seeded into a sectional pool with their schedules from Week 8 till Thanksgiving Day filled with those opponents.

  • Thanksgiving Day games will be preserved with traditional opponents.

  • Tuesday night semi-final playoff games will be eliminated.

The state championship games will be played in one venue on one day. The MIAA is in the last year of its agreement with Gillette Stadium, which has hosted six Super Bowl games each December since 2007.

Under the current football playoff system, 74 teams were alive to play after Thanksgiving Day. Now, there will be just 12.

However, the number of teams competing in the postseason tournament will increase statewide. As constituted, only athletic conference champion participate in postseason play. With the move to a sectional format, multiple teams from any given conference will have the ability to play into December.

Proponents of the measure say that will help student athletes who make the transition from the gridiron to winter sports teams. It also alleviates concerns of the MIAA’s sports medicine committee for players on Super Bowl teams who play three football games in nine days presently.

“It’s a two-year deal, I encouraged everyone to just give it a chance,” said Swampscott football head coach Steve Dembowski, who was involved with pulling together the plan as an executive board member of the MHSFCA. “The biggest issue was the safety for the kids and the inclusion or more teams and more athletes into the tournament.”

Stevenson added, “This is really about giving our student-athletes the best opportunity that we can."