MPA may be ready for 4 classes in football

Posted July 08, 2010, at 9:21 p.m.

Much of the talk in high school football circles these days is about a possible expansion from three to four classes, perhaps as soon as 2011.

The talk is really nothing new, as advocates for an additional class have been advancing various proposals for several years.

But in recent months the topic has been gaining momentum, with the football committee of Maine Principals’ Association discussing possible changes to the state’s gridiron hierarchy.

Indeed, the time is here for that change to come.

High school football in Maine has defied the economic realities of recent times, in large part to community-minded football booster groups who are subsidizing a number of fledgling programs.

This fall, 74 varsity programs will vie for three state championships. Several other schools, including Hermon and Ellsworth, are home to developmental programs with an eye toward gaining varsity status.

For many years the belief was held by many that the MPA was waiting for 80 schools to field varsity teams before a four-division alignment would be established.

But MPA officials say that 80-school plateau has not been a specific target, which is just as well because what’s really the difference between having an additional school here or there to fill a quota so long as there are enough schools in each class to provide a legitimate competitive playing field?

But that wasn’t always the case in previous incarnations of a four-class football society in Maine.

In the early and mid-1980s, for example, four classes were the rule, but the Class B title at the time was reserved for the Pine Tree Conference, which back then was a single 12-team league of central Maine schools.

This time around that won’t be the case, thanks to the steady growth of the sport and potential for more new varsity programs — though admittedly there is the offsetting possibility that school consolidation might take away a football program or two in the not-to-distant future.

Enrollment cutoffs should take care of themselves, with the numbers manipulated to ensure numerical equality among the classes.

Bangor High School likely would be the only school north of Augusta to play in the largest-school class, but that would be nothing new for the Rams, who back before realignment in the mid-1980s faced the likes of Biddeford, Thornton Academy of Saco, Lewiston, Edward Little of Auburn and the Portland schools each autumn.

A bigger challenge may be how to handle what is now called “Super Saturday,” the Saturday before Thanksgiving when all three state championship games are played at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

Adding a fourth game on the same day at the same site is unlikely, so the alternative likely would involve adding a second site for one or two of the state finals.

The second-site notion might be particularly appealing to the smaller-school classes given that the preponderance of them reside north of Portland.

Colby College in Waterville, with its artificial turf field, might be one option, as the Mules’ football season is over at that point each year. Hampden Academy’s turf facility might be another option, as well as other turf sites at Husson University in Bangor or the University of Maine — though at the Orono site conflicts could arise with games involving the Black Bears’ football and hockey teams.

The MPA’s football committee may have a recommendation for that association’s full membership as early as this November. Stay tuned.

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