A proposal that would reduce Class A high school football to a single eight-school division was given unanimous support Monday by two Maine Principals’ Association committees.
The final reclassification plan for all four classes and two new divisions of eight-player football will go before the MPA’s full membership for final approval April 25.
The proposed format for Class A football had undergone multiple changes earlier this year before gaining final preliminary approval by the MPA’s football and classification committees during this emergency meeting.
The changes resulted from the enrollment disparity between the biggest and smallest schools in the state’s largest football class.
Last fall, Thornton Academy of Saco had the biggest Class A enrollment of 1,476 students as of April 1, 2018. It was one of only five schools with more than 1,000 along with Lewiston (1,420), Bangor (1,202), Bonny Eagle of Standish (1,094) and Oxford Hills of South Paris (1,021).
The smallest Class A school during the 2018 season was Portland High School, which had 757 students. That’s 719 fewer than Thornton Academy.
South regional champion Thornton Academy defeated North champion Portland 49-14 in the 2018 Class A state final.
The MPA football committee in January supported a plan to reduce the Class A minimum from 845 students to 780 and expand the class from 14 schools to 18. That would have elevated reigning Class B state champion Marshwood of South Berwick, Skowhegan, Noble of North Berwick and Gorham to Class A.
The classification committee, which sought more of a numerical balance among the classes, in March instead recommended re-adjusting the Class A cutoff to 800 students. That restored Marshwood and Skowhegan to Class B and left a 16-school Class A.
Gorham, Noble and Massabesic of Waterboro subsequently appealed their Class A placements to the MPA interscholastic management committee. Morse of Bath and Nokomis of Newport also had appealed their proposed moves from Class C last fall to Class B for the 2019 season.
The interscholastic management committee referred all five appeals back to the football and classification committees.
The Nokomis and Morse appeals earned quick support Monday, meaning Nokomis would remain in Class C North and Morse would stay in Class C South under the latest proposal.
That left the remaining discussion to focus on the size of Class A and the differential between its largest and smallest schools. The two committees ultimately decided to support the appeals made by Massabesic, Gorham and Noble and revise the Class A minimum to 950 students.
That leaves just eight schools competing in Class A.
“If you were going to do [North and South divisions], now you’re going up to 12 teams and a number of schools that had appealed to the management committee made it very clear that they did not want to play in Class A, that this wasn’t where their programs were and they were concerned about their students and their health and safety,” said Mike Burnham, MPA assistant executive director and its football committee liaison.
The five schools with more than 1,000 students would be joined by Edward Little of Auburn (998), Sanford (982) and Scarborough (973) in the single-division Class A that awaits final consideration.
Class A is expected to develop a nine-game regular-season schedule that includes crossover games against opponents from other classes before moving on to postseason play.
Crossover games with the goal of creating as many competitive matchups as possible are likely to be frequent to avoid byes as five of the other six regional divisions have an odd number of teams.
Class B North and South each has 11 schools under the proposal, while Class C North has 11 schools, Class C South and Class D North have nine apiece, and Class D South has eight.
“The regular-season schedules just need to be an opportunity for kids to play the game and have a chance to win,” Burnham said.
Among changes proposed for Class B, the new Falmouth/Greely cooperative and Westbrook would switch regions, with Falmouth/Greely in the North and Westbrook in the South. Windham and Gardiner would join Class B North, Windham from Class A and Gardiner from Class C South.
Cheverus of Portland, which long has petitioned up to compete in Class A, now is expected to compete in Class B South. Other newcomers in that division would be former Class A programs Deering of Portland, Massabesic, South Portland and Portland.
Class C North would remain the same as in 2018, while reigning state champion Wells and Poland would move from Class D South to Class C South. Freeport also would join the South after a year in the former Class E developmental ranks.
Class D North would remain the Little Ten Conference minus only Ellsworth, which will join the eight-player division.
Class D South would add Dirigo of Dixfield and Camden Hills of Rockport from Class E. Camden Hills, with its 693 students well over the Class D limit of 419, petitioned to play in the smallest 11-player division and will be ineligible for postseason play.
Two eight-player divisions are set to debut this fall, with Mt. Ararat of Topsham, Gray-New Gloucester, Ellsworth, Yarmouth and Maranacook of Readfield in the large-school ranks for schools with 351-plus students.
The eight-player small-school ranks would consist of Sacopee Valley of South Hiram, Traip Academy of Kittery, Old Orchard Beach, Boothbay and Telstar of Bethel.