Last Tuesday, a group of athletic directors, school administrators and several coaches, met with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association to discuss and propose several different alternatives to the current high school football format.
There's been growing dissatisfaction over the last few years about the existing plan, with concerns over too many non-playoff games, to the fact that the Thanksgiving Day Games have less meaning, and that the playoffs take place after the holiday, which puts the winter season team's behind if they have athletes still playing on the gridiron.
For the 2021 season, the format in place includes an eight-week regular season, followed by a statewide tournament in which the top 16 teams in each division qualify.
The group, who have been working on this proposal for the past 18 months, proposes two different plans, both would reduce non-playoff teams from playing three games to two, holding the championship game on the weekend before Thanksgiving, and then all teams would end their seasons on Thanksgiving Day.
Under the current format, playoff games are played after Thanksgiving, which has taken some life out of the Turkey Day games with some programs holding out their top players so they don't get hurt before the playoff games begin.
“The proposal by nature is to secure the two things that Massachusetts high school football has always held on to or has always been what makes it special: A playoff format that plays like-sized schools against each other and an opportunity for seniors to play a meaningful Thanksgiving Day game,” said Burlington athletic director Shaun Hart to the Boston Herald. Hart wants to present the proposal to the football committee in the next few months.
“The big appeal was ending the season on Thanksgiving and not running into the winter sports season. No other sport does that,” said Cambridge athletic director Tom Arria to the Herald. “I just think we can get it all done and bring some meaning back into Thanksgiving. For a senior, playing your last game on Thanksgiving should bring some special meaning.”
There were two proposals given by the committee. The first would be a seven-week regular season followed by the playoffs with the 16 teams in each division. The second proposal would extend the regular season by a week and only eight teams would qualify for the playoffs, and then also cut the non-playoff games down from three to two.
“I’d prefer the seven game schedule and having 16 teams make the playoffs,” said Central Catholic coach Chuck Adamopoulos to the Herald. “Some schools play tougher schedules than others and having this in place would give those teams with a 4-3 record or a 5-2 record a chance to make the playoffs.”
Another proponent of the seven-game regular season is Bob Almeida, the current Stoneham and former WHS coach. He said it's become more and more difficult to schedule games against teams of Stoneham's size.
“We’ve had to wind up playing games against teams in higher divisions,” Almeida said to the Herald. “For us, playing a seven-game schedule is easier for scheduling purposes.”
The second proposal is similar to the first one but extends the regular season by a week with eight games. Fro there, the top eight teams in each division qualifying for the postseason.
According to the Herald's Danny Ventura, limiting the playoffs to the top eight teams virtually eliminates a scenario where teams with records of 0-7, 1-6 and 2-5 from qualifying. He said that “of the 64 first-round playoff games in Eastern Mass. in 2019, just 14 of them were decided by single digits, none coming in Division 1 or Division 2.”
The details of the two plans are as follows:
Plan 1: 16 teams to make the playoffs, four rounds; Season would start on August 20th; practicing with pads from August 23-29; pre-season scrimmages from August 31-September 5; Game 1 would be week of September 7-12; Playoffs would be October 26-31, with the non-playoff qualifiers having first round byes; the state quarterfinals and non-playoff games from November 2-7, followed the next week by state semi-finals and second round of non-playoff games. The championship games would take place from November 16-21, followed by every team ending their seasons on Thanksgiving.
The second plan would be identical to the first with the only difference being adding an eighth regular season game for the week of October 26-31.