There are no football helmets or shoulder pads at Ursuline Academy in Dedham. The Bears have never even fielded a football team. But even without a pigskin presence, this all-girls school will have as much of an impact on the future of the sport as any Mass. Super Bowl contender.
“Based on everything we put in, Ursuline Academy is a voting member of the MIAA, and I think it’s good that all schools have a say,” said Ursuline athletic director Michael O’Connor. “This is a way for the bigger schools to pay attention to the smaller schools.”
The vote in question is for the new state-wide football playoff system that would cut the number of Super Bowls from 19 to six but increase postseason participation across the state. The two-year pilot program will be voted on Oct. 26 at Assabet Regional in Marlboro, and all 373 MIAA schools get suffrage on the matter. That means even non-football schools such as Ursuline – which has 260 girls in grades 9 through 12 – will affect the game.
Though some might question why the proposal is open to non-football schools instead of decided solely by the football-playing community, Donna Brickley feels strongly otherwise.
“I feel like we’ve been down this road before with certain issues or votes not affecting the whole membership, but it seems like a slippery slope to start marginalizing members within the association,” said Brickley, the AD at Notre Dame Academy of Hingham and a member of the MIAA’s Board of Directors. “I think that’s a generally wise decision to let all members have the opportunity to vote. Whether they vote or not is up to them.”
For schools without football, the proposal has few direct ramifications. At Fontbonne, an all-girls school in Milton, the cheerleading team attends Xaverian football games.
“The only direct impact is that our girls may be cheerleading a few more times, which I’m sure they’d be happy to do,” said Fontbonne AD Ellen Sullivan. “Other than that, this proposal isn’t really an issue for us.”
With her athletes unaffected, Sullivan said her attention turns to the wellbeing of those involved.
“I would say my number one thing is safety of the kids,” she said. “Not just related to football, overall the postseasons are too long in most sports for these kids. I like that this proposal cuts down on how many teams play after Thanksgiving and gives more time to rest before winter sports.”
O’Connor sees an opportunity for football to economically improve athletic programs across the state.
“There is some revenue sharing in this proposal, money that goes back in to help all of the MIAA programs,” he said. “That’s a plus. Football does raise some money, let’s be honest about it. In the big picture the proposal doesn’t impact us, but in a smaller way the revenue that they raise does. That’s something to think about.”
Several schools without football teams have listened to opinions of their district colleagues. Both Sullivan and O’Connor said they sought advice from Xaverian football coach and athletic director Charlie Stevenson, who addressed the matter during District H meetings. Rockport AD Mary Ryan said she has weighed the issues pressed by schools in District A.
“I can tell you that some schools in the area are a little concerned that the Thanksgiving Day rivalry game means nothing,” said Ryan, whose athletes have a co-op program with Manchester Essex on the gridiron. “I’m waiting for my District A meeting to get a little more information from the other schools.”
At South Lancaster Academy, athletic director Dustan Cook has heard concerns from District E schools in Central Mass.
“Part of the problem I understood is that traditional rivalries would be put aside or decreased, and there was a revenue factor also because some of them would be moved out of their natural area, which would include more travel,” Cook said. “Hearing the concerns of the coaches and the ADs has swayed me a lot to vote against it.”
With less than three weeks remaining until the vote, non-football schools will have their own list of factors to consider before casting their decision. All seem to agree that every MIAA school deserves a say.
“We all have a vested interest for the association to be as good as possible, so I think one school, one vote is fair,” Cook said. “As long as we get all the information, we can make an informed decision that is best for everyone.”