No doubt 2011 will be a season of change for high school football in Maine.
None of the six divisions, Eastern and Western Maine Classes A, B and C, are exactly as they were last November, when Cheverus of Portland, Mountain Valley of Rumford and Yarmouth were crowned state champions.
Class A changed the least, with just four teams — Brewer and Mt. Blue of Farmington in the East and Westbrook and Marshwood of South Berwick in the West — dropping to Class B by enrollment. Perhaps the biggest change is that the Eastern A playoff field has been reduced from eight to four teams, placing an even greater premium on each regular-season game for the 10 teams remaining in the division.
But the changes are even greater in Classes B and C, where 13 of the 52 teams in those classes this fall aren’t the same as they were a year ago.
In addition to Mt. Blue and Brewer joining the Pine Tree Conference Class B ranks from Class A, Old Town, Madison-Carrabec and the newly formed Oceanside High School — the consolidation of the former Rockland and Georges Valley high schools — are moving up from Class C.
In Western B, former Class C schools Jay and Livermore Falls are now the consolidated Spruce Mountain High School, while Westbrook and Marshwood have dropped by enrollment from Class A.
Eastern C has added two new varsity programs in Hermon and Washington Academy, while Western C has added Poland, down from Western B, Winslow, down from Eastern B, and newcomer Telstar of Bethel.
The sport remains healthy statewide, with 76 schools competing for three state titles this year and any gradual reduction in average team roster size at some traditional football schools over the years more the result of declining enrollments and an ever-increasing number of sports alternatives for youngsters than any mass exodus from the gridiron.
Of course, there could have been even more change had the Maine Principals’ Association opted to increase the number of classes from three to four, but that will have to wait as the state’s football community continues to digest the impact of such a move on their individual schools and conferences.
But here’s another option for a future fourth class — an eight-man football division.
Eight-man football already is being played in as many as 19 states, providing less populated areas of football-rabid states such as Nebraska, Michigan, Tennessee and Oklahoma with opportunities for their student-athletes to play the increasingly popular sport.
There already is some established interest in eight-man football in Maine, particularly from the northern part of the state where the Aroostook Football League and its three County teams are well established.
An MPA-sanctioned eight-man football division could generate interest in other parts of the state where smaller schools might not have available the depth of players needed for the 11-man version but has sufficient interest among its student body to field a smaller team.
It also might become a new home for a few existing programs that are struggling to field 11-man teams amid rapidly declining enrollments.
At the least, it may be time to find out if there’s enough interest in eight-man football statewide to justify adding it to the MPA’s interscholastic offerings.