At an MIAA special assembly at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School on Friday, the association’s member schools voted to approve a state-wide playoff system for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Of the 292 school representatives (either an athletic director, principal or football coach from each school) who attended the meeting, 161 voted to approve the plan, while 131 voted to reject it.
“This is a democratic society and the members have spoken,” said Billerica High athletic director Dave Lezenski. “We did not vote for it, but we will support it.”
The new plan will eventually lead to six state championship games at Gillette Stadium on the first Saturday in December, with teams from North, South, Central and West regions competing for the championships.
Under the current system, there are no state champions. Eastern Mass. (North and South), Central and Western Mass. each have their own Super Bowls, crowning 19 champions. Only six of the 19 Super Bowls (four Eastern Mass. one Central and one West) are played at Gillette Stadium.
The current system also has semifinal games that are played on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, with only league champions in Eastern Mass earning playoff berths. The Central and West regions use a power rating system to determine their playoff teams.
Next season, the playoffs will begin after a seven-game regular season. Central and Western Mass. will select their playoff participants according to a power rating system. In Eastern Mass., leagues with five or more teams will receive two automatic playoff berths. Leagues with fewer than five teams will have one automatic spot. There will also be wild card teams that will be selected according to power ratings to round out a 12-16 team sectional tournament in each division. The seeding will be done according to the power ratings.
Approximately 55 percent of all MIAA schools with football programs will qualify for the playoffs.
The sectional playoffs will begin during the eighth week of the season. The sectional championships will take place in the 10th week at the home fields of the higher seed and the state semifinals will take place on the weekend before Thanksgiving at neutral sites.
The teams that do not qualify for the playoffs and the teams that are eliminated from the playoffs will have games that will be assigned by a scheduling committee. The traditional Thanksgiving Day games will remain unchanged.
Full details of the plan may be found at MIAA.net.
“I like how you get down to a state champion,” said Westford Academy athletic director Dan Twomey.
Twomey, however, voted against the plan.
“The three games at the end of the year mean nothing if you’re not in the playoffs,” he said. “Over the long term, Thanksgiving will mean nothing and it could mean the end of Thanksgiving games.”
Though James Pignataro of the MIAA’s football committee said that the plan would preserve Thanksgiving rivalries, some A Ds were concerned that because the traditional games would essentially become exhibitions and there is a possibility that teams might play each other earlier in the season (sometimes twice), the games’ significance, and their gate receipts, might diminish.
“It could destroy the Thanksgiving tradition,” said Concord-Carlisle athletic director Barry Haley. “Thanksgiving football is one of the unique things in this state.”
Since 1973, Concord-Carlisle has played Bedford on Thanksgiving. The two teams play in the Dual County League Small School Division.
“We could end up playing Concord-Carlisle three times and twice in six weeks,” said Bedford athletic director Keith Mangan. “We’d have to look at our alignment.”
Preserving non-Thanksgiving Day rivalries was also a concern.
“We have rivalries with Acton-Boxborough and Lincoln-Sudbury,” Haley said. “We have a long rivalry with Lexington.”
Some of the plan’s opponents are concerned about the games after week seven that involve teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs or teams that are eliminated in the early rounds.
“We didn’t like the idea of playing a seven-game schedule,” said Tony Gannon, Clinton’s athletic director and an assistant football coach at the school. “I know it’s about getting more teams in the playoffs, but I like the old way better.”
Said Haley, “How do you tell the kids that the last three games are meaningless?”
Lezenski is also worried about what might happen to attendance at the non-playoff teams’ games.
“This year [under the new system] we would be a non-qualifier,” Lezneski said. “This year, we have Central Catholic and Andover remaining on our schedule [at home]. Even with our record, those games are a strong draw. If we had to play another school that we don’t have a rivalry with, it wouldn’t draw as well.”
Now that the vote is over, the focus is on seeing how the plan works over the next two years.
“It doesn’t fit with what our league is trying to do,” said Lexington athletic director Naomi Martin, whose school competes in the Middlesex League. “But the state has spoken and we’ll get on with it.”