Pearson: MIAA criticism 'very far from the truth'

LOWELL, Mass. -- Following Saturday’s Division 1 North semifinal game between Chelmsford and Methuen, MIAA associate executive director Richard Pearson sat down with ESPNBoston.com to discuss the controversy of a potential forfeit leading up to the game, how the association handles scheduling conflicts, and courses of action that member schools can take to avoid future conflicts with The College Board SAT. Pearson was named associate executive director of the MIAA in February 2012 after stints as the assistant principal at Foxboro High School and principal at Medway High School.

Q: Did the MIAA have conversations with Chelmsford and Methuen leading up to Saturday’s game, especially given their original threat to forfeit because of SAT’s?

Pearson: "We had contact and discussion with both the schools in the last couple days, they both expressed challenges with the SAT’s and challenges with graduation (Note: Methuen graduation was held Friday night while Chelmsford graduation was held Saturday afternoon. The game was supposed to be played on Thursday, but was rained out). The basic reason for our decision, which some people may not know, is that there are four games that need to take place: sectional semi, sectional final, Eastern Mass. final, and then the state championship. In looking at the whole dynamic and all the games that needed to be played, playing those four games starting on Sunday, we thought, was an extraordinary challenge for the tournament – and could possibly jeopardize the tournament if rain came in and we wound up having to play back-to-back games.

"We’re very aware of SAT’s across the commonwealth, in all seasons, in all sports, in all the first weekends of the month...including Gillette Stadium on the first weekend of December and including the first weekend of November where we had the first round of the football playoffs...so we all know that this is very evident. That being said, one of the things that the association has said is what we have on our website published: General Tournament Information. It’s in our tournament format pages, and it’s in all our seasons where we have general information. This general information is backbone for all the different formats in all the different sports that are out there. Every season it’s published that everyone has to be aware of The College Board Test. We try to help schools do that and we try to inform them on that."

At this point I’m sure you’re well aware of the criticism the MIAA has been facing by playing the D1 North semifinal today. What is your response to those who would suggest that the decision forces kids to make the choice between being a student or being an athlete?

"I have heard that criticism as well. I would say that’s very far from the truth. A core foundation of our organization, as everyone has printed out and kind of published and tried to throw back at us a little bit is ‘educational athletics and supporting the whole student.’ With that said, our association has also asked us to hold tournaments at the end of each season for approximately a two and a half or three week period so that other seasons can start and other things can happen. I would say this: we are very aware of educational athletics and I think that many our athletic directors are aware of conflicts. Many athletic directors try to warn students about potential conflicts with SAT’s and The College Board.

"This is about a dialogue with students, and we hope that information gets out. It’s not that we’re trying to cause some major conflict, The College Board schedule is their own, our association and member schools want us to run a two or three week tournament for kids and give them the best options – those two things may run into each other a little bit.

"We’ve got LeLacheur Park for four games [Saturday] at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m., so with that we are able to try to accommodate major challenges and conflicts whenever that’s possible –- so that’s what we’re available for. We try to get great venues and great opportunities for kids. We have six or seven total events today across the state today that might have started in the morning or come close to SAT’s. When I add the athletes up, it could be 500 or more athletes –- all with different challenges.

"I certainly wouldn’t want students to think they have to forfeit something that they have an opportunity to do. What I hope happened today is that two teams showed up and played a great game, Chelmsford was able to leave the park at ten minutes of one for a 4 p.m. graduation that’s right next door at the Tsongas Center. I hope that they’ll have plenty of time for that, and I hope Methuen was able to put their best foot forward even though some students were unable to prepare for the SAT conflict."

Were discussions had between the MIAA and Methuen and Chelmsford about potentially playing a doubleheader on Sunday, with the semifinal played first and the Division 1 North final played right after?

"I’m not sure I can recall if any of the A.D’s and the superintendents actually said that, but it may have been a possibility. We felt that even though the SAT’s were there, we thought that our membership was prepared and understood that this is a conflict that does happen. We also kind of felt that, as has just been indicated, that this game could be finished in a timely fashion.

"I also think it is important for us as an association to show our students in the best possible light. We now have this beautiful opportunity to play four games at LeLacheur Park with some of the best athletes in the state of Massachusetts. Why not showcase it if we can pull it off? Outside of the SAT conflict, which I certainly am not trivializing, we were able to do that for the kids.

"I think that’s what our schools are doing, and I hope that communication keeps going out and many of our schools are giving their very best to communicate that. We’ve been doing this for many years, The College Board has been around for many, many years, and I would venture that there have been many schools that would either have to inform their students early or have run into this challenge."

Could you explain the process behind planning the tournaments and how scheduling conflicts are generally handled with spring sports?

"What goes into the tournaments is trying to accommodate many athletes at many schools in many different situations -– whether that be graduations or proms. It’s just trying to juggle all those things…and certainly weather throws in a wrench. There are many hours spent by the tournament directors who have direct contact with athletic directors to try to make adjustments on the fly. They spend hours and hours looking ahead three and four games, looking ahead at three or four different possibilities or scenarios and how all the scenarios could play out. Then, what is the best resolution for conflicting scenarios? When you have a prom and you’ve got to play a game, when you have rain but you’ve got to play a game. The South has to finish their region, the North has to finish their region, the North and South have to get together, and there’s another nuance to this game today -- if this game goes Sunday then the North final goes Tuesday. If this game went Tuesday, then where does the North/South final go?

"It looks like if the games finish tomorrow in Division 1, Norwood and New Bedford play today, Chelmsford and Andover play tomorrow, and that means we could play as early as Tuesday. The target will be for Tuesday and that becomes the Eastern Mass. final, allowing us to have plenty of planning for the state finals on Saturday."

With the sense of urgency you described, does the MIAA have a ‘hard deadline’ for when spring tournaments need to be completed?

"It’s a pretty firm deadline. But I would say this: all the state tournaments have a final at a major venue in a major showcase scenario. Swimming has to go to a bigger pool, track has to go somewhere like the Reggie Lewis Center, so we’ve got these facilities and we have a deadline. So yes, it is a relatively hard deadline that state finals have to be done by the 14th – or whatever date that Saturday is [each year]. We find that it’s best on weekends in order to showcase all the teams, bring all our resources: the press and people following, the parents that love the sport, and the people who love baseball can come and watch multiple games.

"Hockey, Boston Garden. Basketball, WPI. Whatever you want to say. It’s a relatively hard deadline to pull off. With it being a hard deadline and us working backwards, things are on a deadline and they have to get done. Weather is just not a friend in the spring."