On Friday nights and most Saturday afternoons I find myself basking in the glow of the field lights or enjoying the fading sunlight and last vestiges of warmth at a football game somewhere in Maine. Some nights I’ll be working as the public address announcer for the home team but on those off nights I’m at whatever game piques my interest. Watching all of these contests over the years got me to thinking, what would I change if I were in charge of Maine high school football?
First, all team rosters would be required to be printed in numerical order. Recently, I attended a game in which the roster sheets were sorted by grade and last name. Identifying players was like trying to complete the Saturday word search. The penalty for not complying would be for the offending party to volunteer working one game using this roster as the public address announcer or as a broadcaster. I guarantee the person responsible would fall in line thereafter.
Secondly, playoffs in all divisions, north and south, would consist of four teams. Some would argue decent teams would be eliminated, as if this is such a bad thing. Our regular season now has been reduced to nothing more than good teams jockeying for seeding and the elimination of only the weakest teams. This would also reduce the bye week in the first round, which no one seems to like, under the six team play-off format. A nine game regular season and four team play-off is definitely the way to go.
As much as I enjoy the atmosphere of Friday night lights, I’d like to see teams with lights play an occasional Saturday afternoon game. This is especially nice when the weather gets colder late in the season. It also offers more options on the weekend for football junkies like myself.
Fourthly, I would extend the preseason by one week. The MPA seems to have this cookie-cutter mentality when it comes to high school athletics, a one size fits all approach. With the exception of pitchers and catchers in baseball and softball, each sport currently gets about a three week preseason before their first countable contest. That being said, the football committee should be commended for the preseason safety measures they have mandated, such as when teams can don full pads, how much they can hit, how long they can practice, etc.
Football is simply different from other sports, first of all because it’s a collision sport. Secondly, there are many specialized aspects to the sport. Currently, squads are not allowed to wear full gear until late into the first week then are expected to hold a scrimmage the following Monday and play their exhibition game that next weekend. Teams then turn around and open the regular season that following weekend. In addition the time for double sessions has been reduced as a number of schools open earlier. When are teams supposed to work on blocking and tackling, which in the end is the essence of the game?
By the way, the exhibition game I attended this year featured both teams not going live on special teams. Therefore, neither team covered kick-offs or punts against someone wearing a different colored jersey until the regular season opener. One of those teams had the opening kick-off of the season returned against them for a touchdown. A fourth preseason week would help greatly in this regard.
This will be the third year a Friday night state championship game will be played as class D will take center stage on Friday, November 20th at the University of Maine. It’s time to put Class A into the mix as well. How about playing next year’s Class A state championship game on Friday night in Portland? The other three games could be played at the University of Maine on Saturday.
Lastly, the football committee should look at implementing more stringent guidelines for new programs joining the varsity ranks. At present, schools looking to play varsity football need to participate at a club or sub-varsity level for two seasons. This is akin to graduating a student who has only met the requisite seat time. This committee, comprised of veteran football people would carefully examine each incoming program to determine whether or not they were varsity ready. This readiness would be judged based on ability to be safe, competitive, and sustainable.
There you have them, my ideas big and small, for improving the game of high school football in Maine. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on ways to improve this great game throughout our state.