70-7. 65-0. 60-0. The beat goes on. Those were some final scores of high school football contests played this season. According to the website Maine High School Football, through the first three weeks of the season over 35% of games were decided by thirty-five or more points. This number doesn’t even begin to take into account the volume of contests in which the trailing team scored a window dressing touchdown or two versus the victor’s second or third units.
So what gives and what, if anything, should be done to lessen the number of one-sided contests played each Friday night and Saturday afternoon? This year marks the fourth year since Maine high school football expanded from three to four classes. The move was touted to promote more competitive football. In a sense this allowed schools on the lower end of the enrollment scale to have a better opportunity to compete against similar sized schools in the quest for gold. Case in point: under the three class alignment, western Maine teams were 23-2 in class A state title contests. One of the two eastern Maine victories was achieved by Bangor, which boasts an enrollment similar to most of the larger southern Maine schools.
The shift to four classes has created some unintended consequences. Under the three class system in some cases there were 12-14 teams per regional division. A larger number of schools in each division allowed conferences to tier their schedules slightly. A weaker team would not generally play all of the league powerhouses. With ten or fewer teams now in each division, most teams play each other during the season.
Secondly, school enrollments are shrinking and there are more opportunities for kids. Thirty years ago, even in weaker programs, the better athletes in school for the most part played football. This isn’t the case today. Soccer is growing by leaps and bounds in many places. If a kid growing sees the local soccer team contending for and winning championships while the football team struggles to be competitive year in and year out, guess where they will likely gravitate? More players specialize in one sport today. I’m sure there are plenty of students throughout the halls of high schools, who don’t play a fall sport, who could contribute on the gridiron.
Thirdly, some new programs have struggled to build solid foundations. It simply takes a significant amount of time to build a football culture in a community. During that period new programs are going to take their lumps. Some towns never will develop a strong football base.
Finally is the natural change that occurs in high school athletics. MCI, who is gearing up to win their third straight regional title, went 0-8 in 2012. Dexter is also having one of their best seasons in quite some time after having been down. There are other programs who are headed in the opposite direction, struggling after being contenders just a few years ago.
So what can be done to create more competitive match-ups? I’ve heard some suggest the MPA look at other criteria besides strictly enrollment numbers. The only problem with this notion is enrollment eventually becomes a factor. A school of eight hundred students with a great football culture and infrastructure will generally fall short when facing a school with four to five hundred more kids to choose from, with an equally strong culture and infrastructure. We have twenty-five years of evidence to support this. Most of these “other factors” are within the communities control. Enrollment is the one factor that is not controlled by the school. Rather than look to the MPA for answers, perhaps those programs that struggle each year need to emulate what the more successful teams do.
Keep in mind: it is the MPA’s mission to create equal opportunities to compete, not to create equal outcomes.
One possible solution to alleviate the number of one-sided contests would be to allow some scheduling flexibility. Most in charge of scheduling have some idea who the powers are going to be for the upcoming season. Allow for some cross class scheduling. Bonny Eagle vs. Brunswick, for instance, would make for a much more competitive contest than the majority of either team’s current opposition.
Inevitably, one-sided contests, while we don’t like to see them, are as much a part of, if not more so, a part of sports than last second heroics. It’s time we stop wringing our hands on this issue and as fans simply accept this reality. .