The trickle-down effect of the global economic crisis is leaving few entities unscathed, including Maine interscholastic athletics.
The Maine Principals’ Association announced Friday several cost-cutting recommendations that include decreasing both the number of countable games for all varsity sports teams as well as reducing the number of teams qualifying for postseason play in sports governed by Heal points.
The proposals come in response to recent cuts in state subsidy to education as well as additional cuts expected during the next two-year state budget cycle, according to MPA executive director Dick Durost.
“Schools are looking at having to make some drastic changes academically with the reduction in subsidy, you’re looking at larger class sizes and perhaps some classes not being offered,” said Durost. “What we’re trying to do here is to make some changes across the board with athletics that will still keep the playing field level for all schools.”
Changes recommended by a 15-member ad hoc committee of principals, athletic administrators and sports officials include decreasing the maximum number of countable games in all varsity sports by two if the current number is 12 or more during a season, and by one if the present number is 10 or fewer.
For example, basketball schedules that currently allow for a maximum of 18 regular-season games would be reduced to a maximum of 16 games. Football, which allows for a maximum of nine regular-season games, would have that number reduced to eight per season.
In addition, varsity sports teams would be limited to just two noncountable dates per season, which includes all scrimmages and exhibition games as well as preseason and holiday tournaments. Currently the number of noncountable games varies from school to school and from sport to sport.
In basketball, for example, some varsity teams play several preseason games and scrimmages, then participates in a holiday tournament — all contests beyond the scope of their regular-season schedules.
In all Heal point sports, the number of teams qualifying for postseason play would be reduced from the current two-thirds to 50 percent. Under the current format, a class with 18 teams currently has 12 that qualify for postseason play. Under the recommendations, that number would be reduced to nine playoff qualifiers in an 18-team class.
Due to the expense of renting swimming pools and ice hockey arenas, the length of the winter sports seasons for those sports would be decreased by one week under the proposals.
Other recommendations would propose a two-year moratorium for all officials’ groups regarding game fees and travel and would have Maine withdraw from participation in New England championship competitions.
If approved, these changes would become effective with the 2009-2010 school year with two exceptions. The number of teams eligible for postseason play in Heal point sports and the number of maximum countable games per sport would become effective during the 2009 spring sports season.
The recommendations were e-mailed to principals and athletic administrators statewide Friday morning, and Durost said that by mid-afternoon he already had received feedback from approximately 35 school officials.
“I’d say about three-fourths of the responses have been totally in agreement,” Durost said.
The recommendations, as well as the subsequent feedback of school officials, will be considered by the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee when it votes on the issues in late January.
The timing of that vote is designed to fit in with each school’s budget-building and sports scheduling process, Durost added.
Athletics typically account for 1 to 3 percent of a school budget, Durost said. Among the major costs associated with a school’s athletic budget are transportation, game officials, equipment and uniforms.
Durost is hopeful the cuts recommended by the ad hoc committee will circumvent individual schools having to eliminate specific sports at the high school level or reducing its subvarsity or middle-school sports commitment.
Durost had been meeting with the state’s superintendents association about cost-cutting issues since August 2007, with concerns originally centered on escalating transportation costs in light of steep increases in gasoline and diesel fuel costs.
While those specific costs have abated — largely because of decreased worldwide fuel demand due to other economic concerns — the financial crisis that has rocked the global economy in recent months has renewed the MPA’s focus on managing costs.
In early November the MPA appointed the 15-member ad hoc committee of principals, athletic administrators, superintendents and sports officials, which subsequently developed the recommendations that it presented to the MPA earlier this week.