AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Principals’ Association is back at work developing a proposal to expand the state’s high school football ranks from three to four classes beginning in 2013.
The MPA’s football committee met Tuesday to begin crafting a framework for such a proposal, which would be subject to review by the association’s classification and interscholastic management committees before being presented for a vote of the full membership, likely in April 2013.
This effort comes two years after similar work to expand to four classes was tabled because of concerns about its potential impact on individual programs and the conferences statewide that currently establish regular-season schedules and playoff formats for sending representatives to state championship games each year.
“Back then the ‘A’ schools considered this a bottom-up approach and the ‘C’ schools considered this a top-down approach, which probably meant it was a legitimate issue because nobody was happy,” said MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham.
But while the previous proposal drew some criticism in 2010, the climate surrounding the addition of a fourth class seems much less hostile today, in part because of issues surrounding competitive balance within the existing three-class structure.
“The thinking is we can’t wait another two years,” said Massabesic of Waterboro head football coach John Morin, a liaison to the football committee.
The committee hopes to develop a four-class proposal based on the same criteria that guided its work in 2010, including having balance in the number of teams between Eastern and Western Maine, eliminating regular-season byes, providing competitive schedules and having a similar number of teams in each class.
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the coaches’ association,” said committee chairman Mike Bisson, associate principal and athletic director at Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln. “There’s been some reconsideration that maybe we really missed an opportunity for four classes a couple of years ago and that in looking at how it’s turned out with three classes that we really need to continue to move forward with four classes.”
Some in the football community have suggested using the strength of individual programs as a factor in classification to support teams that may be struggling competitively, but committee members were in agreement that a four-class format should be crafted in the same manner as the current three-class format — by enrollment.
“That is the plan at this point,” said Bisson. “The committee feels strongly about keeping it consistent with other sports.”
Early indications also suggest that the four classes could be divided into East and West divisions that might not be as heavily dependent on traditional conference affiliations as the divisional alignments have been in the past.
One option for a fourth class that won’t be part of these considerations is adding an eight-man football division.
Morin said that while the state’s coaches consider eight-man football as a viable possibility, they also felt it should be a separate entity and not a solution to the four-class issue for the established 11-man programs, which currently number 75 statewide pending the possible addition of Ellsworth-Sumner.
A proposal for Ellsworth-Sumner to join the 11-player varsity ranks this fall and replace Calais-Woodland — which announced earlier this month that it will not field a team in 2012 — was slated to be considered by the RSU 24 board of directors Tuesday evening.
The MPA surveyed its membership earlier this year about support for an eight-man football division as a means of expanding the sport to other communities or helping programs that are struggling in the face of declining enrollment, but did not find sufficient interest for now to continue pursuing the idea.
The football committee is awaiting updated enrollment figures that will serve as the basis for classifying teams for the next two-year cycle that begins in 2013, and hopes to have those numbers — based on April 1, 2012, enrollments — before its next meeting in late May.
“At that point we’ll start to draw up what it could look like and come up with a proposal,” said Bisson.