Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Big Changes in 2011?

The CAL Small Champion Pioneers will be defending their crown this fall, but will that be the last time they ever get a chance to win the league title?



Because the CAL Small may not exist beginning in 2011. The CAL Large may not be around either. For that matter, every league in the state may be extinct.

Under a proposal being considered by the MIAA, beginning with the 2011 season, all leagues will cease to exist. Instead, all schools will be grouped by enrollments into six divisions of approximately 16 teams divided into North and South sections. There will be a seven game schedule within each division and the top half of the division will quality for a post season playoff.

The teams that do not qualify for the playoff will continue their season with games assigned by a committee or a commissioner. Thanksgiving Day opponents would remain. Week 10 would be left open for schools to schedule any team.

The winners of what would be a three game playoff would advance to a statewide Division Super Bowl to be played at Gillette. For the first time, this would include teams from Central and Western Mass so true State Champions would be crowned.

The MIAA Football subcommittee which has been working on the proposal for over a year and unveiled it last May, has given several reasons to justify the changes.

First, they have pointed out that every other sport allows nearly 50 percent of schools to make the post season tournament, but football, restricted to league champions, allows only 28 teams to make the playoffs.

Also, they are hoping the new format would stem the tide, growing in recent years, of schools switching leagues, leagues dividing in two, all jockeying for a position to earn one of those few playoff spots. They feel this proposal gives every team a more realistic shot at going to the postseason.

Third, the proposal would eliminate the three games in nine days scenario that schools face under the current system.

So how would the new format affect the Pioneers?

Well Beano's Blog, a site that looks at all eastern mass high school sports, took a hypothetical swing at what this system would look like in an entry he posted in October. EMass football - What if there was a new playoff format?

Beano figured Lynnfield would end up in Division Four North and that brings up the first disturbing issue. The grouping is by male enrollment with some adjustments. As an example, Catholic school enrollment would be multiplied by 1.3 to adjust enrollment up. Beano's cut on the Pioneers' division has an enrollment range of 317 to a high of 412. And guess where Lynnfield would fall in the 16 team grouping? How about third smallest at 337? The biggest teams would be Pentucket (412), Stoneham (401), Bedford (391) and Swampscott (388). The only schools smaller than Lynnfield would be Austin Prep (324) and Bishop Fenwick (318).

So are you excited about the Pioneers playing in a division with Pentucket and Swampscott?

Ironically, guess who was atop the standings after seven weeks this past season? Your Lynnfield Pioneers with a 6-1 record. So they would have ended up being the top seed and their first round opponent would have been either Pentucket, Newburyport or St. Mary's who were all tied for 8th place at 4-3.  Of course the schedule would have been different since all games would be within the division, but it is an interesting scenario.

Mathematically, the new plan increases the odds of the Pioneers making the postseason. Right now the odds are one in six and under the new system, it would be 50-50. However, the odds of actually making a Super Bowl, decrease to 1 in 8 in the new proposal vs 50-50 once they make the playoffs under the current system.

However, the real concern is the stability of the current system. With the non stop jockeying between leagues, who knows how long the CAL Small as currently constructed will actually be around?

In December, the MIAA board of directors agreed to forward the proposal to the March 26 membership meeting. At that meeting each school, represented by its principal and athletic director, will vote on whether to accept the new format or keep the current system.

Pioneer head coach and co-AD is reserving judgement on the proposal until he hears more about it.

A couple of his assistants, though do have some opinions on the plan.

"I'm not crazy about the new format," said assistant coach Mike Geary. "But I prefer the BCS system instead of a college football playoff so I may be in the minority on this one. I don't like the idea of having 50% of the teams make the postseason. I think the fact that each and every game in a footbal season is meaningful is something that high school football has that none of the other sports have. The pressure is there to win every game on your regular season schedule or your season could be done."

Geary goes on to make an interesting point.

"I think with the new format you would run into teams starting out their season 5-0 or 4-1 and knowing they're already in the playoffs. Then how do you treat the last few games of the regular season? My vote would be to give the starters a few weeks rest. Then you would have a couple of teams in each division playing backups for a few weeks in mid October. Is that a good thing?"

Assistant coach Patrick Sheehan has a different take on it.

"I think the kids would embrace the proposed divisions," Sheehan said. "I have seen a breakdown of how the divisions would be broken up and our division would keep most of our Cape Ann League foes anyway. I think it would be cool for Lynnfield to play some other towns that we don't traditionally play. Swampscott, Marblehead and Manchester Essex are all teams that I feel are similar in size and would probably be in our division."

One of the things that I like about it is that it eliminates the total mismatch games which is a good thing although I still don't get Pentucket being in the same division as Lynnfield. Hopefully if this passes, those types of issues will be sorted out.

The passage of this proposal would arguably be the biggest shakeup in Massachusetts high school football ever. We'll have to wait and see what happens on March 26.

Check back for my next post on March 9th.