State high school football playoff proposal passes

MARLBOROUGH — The MIAA has passed a high school football playoff proposal that will significantly alter the number of participants in the postseason, change the way the regular season is scheduled, and reduce the number of state champions.

The measure to adopt a two-year trial of the new format passed 161-131, with principals and athletic directors across the state voting on the proposal Friday morning at Assabet Valley Regional Vocational School. The new plan will begin next season.

“Excellent day for high school football,” said Charlie Stevenson, athletic director and football coach at Xaverian. “It’s going to give football playing athletes the same postseason opportunity that the athletes that play other sports in the state have.”

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The most notable feature of the proposal is a change to the Super Bowls structure. Currently, there are 19 Super Bowl champions across Western, Central and Eastern Massachusetts, but the proposal will reduce that number to six championship games, which will all be played at Gillette Stadium. In an effort to be academically conscious, the proposal will eliminate Tuesday playoff games, which typically end at 10 p.m. or later.

Addressing safety concerns, the new proposal eliminates a schedule in which teams played three games in nine days.

The crux of the new proposal is the opportunity for a wider swath of high school football teams to take part in the playoffs. Teams with 10-1 records will no longer become ineligible in competitive divisions. Two teams from each league will gain admission to the postseason, but in doing so will alter the way schedules are composed, including the possibility that some schools will face their Thanksgiving Day rival up to three times in one season.

Thanksgiving rivals who are in the same league must play a league game in the first seven weeks, and then play another game on Thanksgiving. The possibility exists for them to also meet in the playoffs.

The plan calls for the season to come to an end on Thanksgiving, with the six state championships occurring afterward. League games must be completed by Week 7 so eligible teams can begin the postseason in November before Thanksgiving.

With teams facing the possibility of playing their Thanksgiving rivals twice, many coaches were against the new plan due to the rich history of rivalry games on Thanksgiving, which sometimes ended up being the most important game of the season.

“The number one thing is the destruction of Thanksgiving day rivalry,” said Tim Woods, athletic director at Dracut. “Also, it diminishes the value of league championships.”

Under the previous format, playoff semifinalists would play on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, with the Super Bowls that weekend.

“If this is what they have passed, then so be it,” Malden athletic director Dan Keefe said. “We don’t want to come across as sour grapes, so we’ll figure it out and make the best of it. “Change is tough for many people and many reasons. For us, it is hundreds of years of tradition at stake. Not only is it the 125 years between Malden and Medford, but it’s 118 years with Everett and nearly 100 years with Somerville.

“We are going to have the ability to determine our own league schedule, so we’ll talk about that next week. The difficulty with us having a five team league is that the bigger leagues will be able to front load their schedules where we will be looking to back load ours.

“One of our biggest fears as an urban school and community is that we don’t have kids stick around for that game now. If you downgrade the significance of that game, we are fearful that we might lose players once the team is out of it.”