Postseason play for Maine high school sports governed by the Heal point system will be more inclusive beginning this fall, with two-thirds of the teams in each division qualifying for the playoffs instead of the 50 percent rule that has been in place for the past two years.
The general membership of the Maine Principals’ Association voted by an approximate 2-to-1 margin to approve that change Thursday during the the organization’s annual spring conference at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, according to MPA executive director Dick Durost.
Voters approved by approximately the same margin maintaining a limit on teams in all sports of five noncountable dates for games per season along with one more noncountable date between the end of the regular season and postseason play.
The MPA adopted the 50 percent rule and noncountable game limit two years ago essentially on a trial basis with the understanding that the topics would be revisited this year.
A survey of MPA members was conducted in late March and early April, Durost said, with principals and athletic administrators from 89 of the approximately 150 member schools responding.
Of the responding schools, some two-thirds supported restoring playoff eligibility to the top two-thirds of the teams in each division, as was the case before the 2009-10 academic year, while two-thirds of respondents also supported keeping the limits on noncountable dates.
“What we found was that a lot of the schools that responded were looking to address transportation costs,” Durost said.
Under the two-thirds rule, schools from a higher-enrollment class now may be more willing to schedule regular-season games against nearby schools from a lower-enrollment class rather than pass by those neighboring schools to find more Heal-pointworthy opponents from their own class, given that the higher-enrollment class to which an opponent is assigned, the more Heal points it is worth.
With two-thirds of the teams in a division advancing to postseason play — 12 teams will qualify in an 18-team division next fall, for example, compared to just nine this year — there will be more playoff berths available so the potential cost to a team in Heal points from playing a neighboring opponent from a lower-enrollment class would not be as great as it might be with fewer postseason bids available.
“A lot of schools would really like to cut back on transportation costs, but with just 50 percent it’s hard to convince some people in the community to play a school out of their class,” Durost said. “But they’d be more likely to be open to scheduling somebody nearby out of class if two-thirds of the teams are going to the playoffs.”
Also approved by the membership was the work of the MPA’s classification committee to align teams in Eastern and Western Maine divisions based on enrollment for the next two-year cycle, according to MPA assistant executive director Jeff Sturgis.
Among Eastern Maine schools on the move, Foxcroft Academy and Washington Academy of East Machias will go from Class C to Class B in most sports, while Bucksport and Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln will shift from B to C, and Hodgdon, Penobscot Valley of Howland and Woodland will drop from C to D.
Hampden Academy will move from B to A in cross country, field hockey, indoor track and outdoor track, while Oceanside High School — the merger of Rockland and Georges Valley of Thomaston high schools set to begin this fall — has been placed in Eastern Maine Class B in most sports.
In addition, Morse of Bath, originally set to move from Eastern A to Eastern B by enrollment, instead will compete in Western B in several sports.
Several changes also are in the works for high school football, including the shift of Winslow not only from Class B to Class C due to enrollment, but also from Eastern Maine to Western Maine as the final step that enables all six football divisions in the state to have an even number of teams for scheduling purposes.
Winslow’s move from Eastern to Western Maine had been suggested recently in the aftermath of a couple of changes made after the MPA’s football and classification committees had done their original work, Washington Academy’s decision to field a team this fall in Eastern C, and the vote to consolidate the athletic programs at Jay and Livermore Falls high schools into a new Spruce Mountain High School as of this summer. While Jay and Livermore Falls are traditional Western C schools, Spruce Mountain will compete in Western B.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Winslow,” said Durost. “Their preference would have been not to do this because of their long history as an Eastern Maine school in football. But they wanted to be a good member school and were willing to do this with the idea that if things change two years from now they would like to have the opportunity to come back to the East.”