February 24, 2020
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Maine wants to develop 8-player football divisions. Now it’s getting closer to becoming a reality.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Both Nokomis High School's Tyler Pelletier (left) and Fryeburg Academy's Nathan Knapp attempt to catch the ball in the Class C state football championship game in Portland in this Nov. 17, 2018, file photo.

A framework for adding two, eight-player divisions to Maine high school football beginning next fall inched closer to formality Tuesday.

The Maine Principals’ Association football committee has created an updated draft of the proposed format for the next two-year classification cycle that would include Classes A, B and C, and an eight-player class with two divisions based on enrollment.

The eight-player format seeks to address reduced participation levels, related player safety concerns and competitive imbalance among many of the state’s 78 high school football programs.

Schools that plan to play 11-player football were placed in Classes A, B or C based on their enrollment, while schools that expressed some level of interest in eight-player football on a previous survey were placed in one of those divisions.

The updated draft format is being sent out to all participating football schools in the state and the request for final feedback must be returned to the MPA by Jan. 25.

The football committee meets again Jan. 31 to formalize its plan for the next two years and will send that proposal along to the MPA classification committee for consideration.

The final version of the football format ultimately must be approved by the MPA’s general membership at its spring conference in order to be implemented beginning next fall.

“As drafts have come out we’ve had people make some decisions about where they want to be, whether it’s eight-man or 11-man,” said Brendan Scully, athletic administrator at Massabesic High School in Waterboro and chair of the MPA football committee.

“I think this draft will create some more change, and some additional decisions by schools will follow. We’re looking at that next meeting date to have something crystalized that we can send to the classification committee once the last handful of schools make their final decisions,” he said.

Twenty schools indicated some interest in eight-player football on a survey that was distributed by the committee to member schools late last year, but many of those schools said such a move would be dependent on available opponents.

In the updated draft of the classification format, those schools were placed in two divisions of the eight-player division, one division for schools with 350 or fewer students and the other for schools with more than 350 students.

Schools placed in the eight-player division for larger schools were Cape Elizabeth, Greely of Cumberland Center, Ellsworth/Sumner, Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, Mt. Ararat of Topsham, Yarmouth, Belfast, Freeport, Gray-New Gloucester, Poland, Presque Isle, Maranacook of Readfield and Washington Academy of East Machias.

Schools placed in the eight-player division of 350 students or less were Boothbay, Dirigo of Dixfield, Houlton, Old Orchard Beach, Sacopee Valley of South Hiram, Telstar of Bethel and Traip Academy of Kittery.

Those schools have until Jan. 25 to let the MPA know whether they will commit to playing in the eight-player division, move back to 11-player football or, as in the case of Greely High School and Traip Academy, which are struggling with player numbers, join a neighboring school as a cooperative entry in the 11-player ranks.

The other 59 high school football programs statewide were divided into three 11-player classes, with 19 schools in Class A and 20 schools in both Class B and Class C. Those schools also retain the option, until Jan. 25, of shifting to the eight-player ranks.

Below are the latest draft for football classification for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, with their April 1, 2018, enrollments that are being used for placement purposes for the next two-year cycle:

Class A (760 or more students): Thornton Academy (1,476), Lewiston (1,420), Bangor (1,202), Deering (1,121), Oxford Hills/Buckfield (1,063), Bonny Eagle (1,094), Edward Little (998), Sanford (982), Portland (949), Scarborough (973), Windham (941), Massabesic (927), South Portland (898), Noble (894), Gorham (819), Marshwood (784), Skowhegan (782), Hampden Academy (770) and Biddeford (764).

Class B (505-759): Westbrook 748, Messalonskee (735), Kennebunk (717), Brunswick (714), Falmouth (710), Camden Hills (693), Cony (673), Brewer (672), Mt. Blue (666), Gardiner (622), Lawrence (610), Nokomis (583), Morse (583), Fryeburg Academy (575), Medomak Valley (559), York (553), Leavitt (551), Lake Region (535), Waterville (516) and Hermon (508).

Class C (504 or less): Old Town (503), Oceanside (474), John Bapst (465), Winslow (438), Maine Central Institute (433), Wells (422), Foxcroft Academy (415), Spruce Mountain (402), Oak Hill (399), Cheverus (394), Mountain Valley (375), Mount View (374), Lisbon/St. Dominic (357), Mattanawcook Academy (341), Orono (338), Bucksport (314), Dexter (290), Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale (267), Madison/Carrabec (259) and Schenck/Stearns (168).

Those lineups also could be altered depending whether additional or fewer teams opt for eight-player football or schools in the 11-player class opt to petition the MPA to move up or down in classification.

“Naturally there’s local concern for each individual school,” Scully said. “Some schools have held back waiting to see what would happen, so now we’re trying to as much information out to the schools as far as the structure and which schools are going to go where so they can finalize what they’re going to do.”

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