Tick. Tick. Tick. The clock winds down in the second half of another one-sided high school football game on a Maine gridiron. Over the past couple seasons many clocks have moved more quickly in such contests. Once a team amasses a lead of thirty-five or more in the second half, the clock does not stop except in the case of a score, time-out, injury, or penalty. During the past two seasons, approximately one third of all regular season contests played faced such a scenario.
Thanks to the efforts of the Maine Principals’ Association’s football committee these situations should be significantly reduced for the 2017 season. Fans of their favorite schools will perhaps see some unfamiliar opponents when perusing the schedule for the upcoming season. According to mainehighschoolfootball.com, the state’s seventy-eight varsity football programs have been divided into five classes. These include classes A-D, as well as a new MPA recognized developmental class, Class E.
Classes A-D are selected based on enrollment while Class E looks to help struggling programs get back on track, irrespective of enrollment. There will not be a recognized MPA state champion at the season’s conclusion but they may have a structured play-off once the regular season ends. This year’s Class E will feature six teams, although there are others who may have benefited from participation but elected not to due to travel concerns.
Each Class A-D school will play an eight game regular season schedule. Every team will play six games within their own class and division. The other two games will either be versus a different class or division. The class A schedule will look much the same as in previous years. Each ‘A’ division has seven teams so every team will play each other within the division. The two cross-over opponents were selected based on competitive balance while taking into account geographic rivalries.
The class B, C, and D schools for their cross-over games may play versus the opposite division in their own class or play a team one class above or below their enrollment class. The goal, and looking at the match-ups I believe this has been achieved, was to create the most competitive games possible, non-respective of class. Each team will play one of these opponents at home and the other on the road.
While it was not the primary goal of the committee, some rivalries have been preserved due to the new scheduling structure. Take Gardiner for instance. The Tigers were reclassified this year into class C south. Gardiner’s two cross-over opponents are Cony, which competes in B north, and Winslow, competing in C north. Winslow in turn picked up a cross-over game with neighboring Lawrence, a team they haven’t played since both competed in the Pine Tree Conference A ranks through 1990. MDI, the defending C North champion has an intriguing game with Hancock County rival Bucksport, who should be a serious contender in D North. I think we would all agree these match-ups are much better for the game of football than a drubbing by a conference front-runner over a struggling program.
By playing fewer conference opponents, those match-ups within the league likely won’t have the top teams playing the bottom clubs. While some mismatches are always going to be unavoidable, most contests should be much more competitive.
Standings will be compiled using the Heal point system, the mathematical formula devised by the late Schenck High School administrator Durwood Heal, which is used to rank teams in the majority of MPA sanctioned sports. This replaces the Crabtree point system, which merely added a team’s winning percentage and the winning percentage of their opponents to determine postseason rankings.
Of course with any change will come criticism. With seventy-eight football programs, regardless of what decision is made not everyone will be content. Some will argue that those schools which are struggling simply need to retool their programs and get better. I would agree with that to a point. In the meantime, one-sided contests in which the outcome is never in doubt serves in no one’s best interests. For many schools there will be extra travel involved. In essence we are only talking one long trip a year. I’m not sure why we treat travel, especially one long road trip a year like an arduous ordeal. Many trips are good for team bonding.
There is also the concern with the vast inequity of schedule strength impacting play-off positioning. Yes, there will be some teams who will be miss-seeded. The expansion of play-offs should alleviate many of these concerns. In classes A and B where there are fewer teams six teams will make the play-offs in each division. Classes C and D will have eight team play-offs in each division.
Yes, we can nitpick but when you look at the big picture, the work the football committee has done should yield a much more competitive playing field in 2017.