AUGUSTA, Maine — The football committee of the Maine Principals’ Association tinkered Tuesday with its proposal to expand the sport from three to four classes statewide beginning with the 2013 season.
The revisions were based on requests by three schools — Biddeford, Mountain Valley of Rumford, and Wells — to play at a class higher than they would be classified based on enrollment.
Eight of the state’s 76 football-playing schools overall were shifted by class or geographic region based on those requests, which were made after the committee developed an initial draft proposal dividing the current three classes into four at its previous meeting in late May.
It represents a relatively modest number of changes given the vitriol the four-class proposal faced when it was first considered by the MPA in 2010.
“I honestly feel that with the first cycle we went through when we had the ad hoc committee we heard a lot of the complaints previously,” said MPA football committee chairman Todd Livingston, athletic administrator at South Portland High School. “And when we send this new proposal out and schools actually have another opportunity to see where they are, I’m not sure how many more changes we’ll see.
“But it’s been out there long enough that I think people have a general idea of where they fall, and we didn’t hear from a lot of schools other than those who want to apply up so that leads me to believe that schools are relatively comfortable with where they are.”
After the 2010 effort was tabled, the football committee continued to study ways to address the gradual growth in the sport statewide and enhance competitive balance, including a survey last year to gauge the interest in adding an eight-player football division.
The interest in eight-player football was found lacking as a means to help struggling 11-player programs or to create opportunities for smaller schools to add the sport, but support for a four-class system has increased during the last year.
“It’s a work in progress,” said committee member Paul Bickford, assistant principal at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris. “I figure things are going to change in the next six months, but I like where we are now.”
The latest changes would retain 18 teams in both Class A and Class B, with each class divided into nine-team East and West divisions, and 20 teams in both Class C and Class D, with each of those classes split into 10-team East and West divisions.
Under the most recent revisions, Biddeford was moved back to Western Maine Class A after originally being placed in Class B by enrollment, and the Class A minimum enrollment cutoff was raised from 850 to 855. That cutoff shift moves Gorham (enrollment 853) into Western Maine Class B to replace Biddeford.
The other two schools requesting to be moved up a class, Wells and Mountain Valley, both were moved from Western D to Western C under the latest version of the four-class plan.
Wells is the reigning Class B state champion in the current three-class format, while Mountain Valley was the Class B state champion in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
To accommodate those requests and keep Classes C and B at 20 teams each, the committee changed the enrollment cutoff between those classes from 449 to 459 — enabling John Bapst of Bangor and Yarmouth to be moved from Class C to Class D.
John Bapst would move to Eastern D and Yarmouth to Western D, with Winthrop also being shifted from Western D to Eastern D to leave both divisions with 10 teams.
The final change would shift Morse High School of Bath Western C to Eastern C to leave both Class C divisions with 10 schools.
“Once the football season starts, we’ll send out the newest proposal to the schools and give them one more opportunity to apply up or down,” said Mike Burnham, MPA assistant executive director.
Schools may apply either up or down a class, but if they apply down they would be ineligible for postseason play, under MPA rules.
Committee members expect to receive more feedback this fall given that that it will be football season and more school officials will be actively engaged in the sport than perhaps they are throughout the summer.
The football committee will address any new feedback at a Nov. 28 meeting, when it hopes to craft a final proposal to forward to the MPA’s classification committee. Any four-class proposal for football beginning with the 2013 season ultimately would face a final vote of the MPA’s full membership next spring.
The classification process is designed to determine representatives to the state championship games contested each November, but regular-season schedules still would be determined more locally.
One of the more interesting scheduling cases potentially involves a new-look Class A, where Portland schools Cheverus, Deering and Portland would move from Western to Eastern Maine, joining Bangor, Brunswick, Edward Little of Auburn, Lewiston, Mount Ararat of Topsham and Oxford Hills.
That would take the Portland schools away from their traditional athletic scheduling base within the Southwestern Maine Activities Association for football, instead linking them with schools from the Pine Tree Conference to even out the number of teams in Eastern and Western A.
How the two leagues would work together to develop a regular-season schedule remains to be seen. Possibilities include an eight-game schedule involving only opponents within each team’s geographic division, a nine-game regular-season schedule with one crossover game, or a scheduling providing for more crossover opportunities between East and West.
“I think Portland, Deering and Cheverus are already in the East for lacrosse, and one thing they’re going to feel strongly about is — and I’ve already heard it from a couple of them — is that if they’re going to have to play the Eastern schools in the playoffs they’re going to want to play them in the regular season, and I don’t blame them,” said Livingston.
“I think the two leagues can get relatively creative in some way to come up with a schedule. It’s not impossible.”