Houlton's Breanne Barton, right, prepares to kick the ball as Southern Aroostook's Madison Shields defends during a Sept. 22 girls soccer game. Houlton won 6-3. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

One of the topics of discussion among the 33 athletic directors at Thursday’s Penobscot Valley Conference meetings was the possibility of having playoff games involving schools in close proximity to each other following their 10-game regular season schedule for soccer and field hockey teams.

But that topic is now off the table as the Maine Principals’ Association’s Interscholastic Management Committee decided on Tuesday to keep the limit at 10 games, with that number including playoff games.

The 10 regular-season game limit for soccer and field hockey, which was prompted by COVID-19 safety protocols, is four games fewer than a normal regular season schedule.

The MPA had canceled regional playoff games and state championship contests in those sports, although MPA-sanctioned golf and cross country state championships will be held.

There aren’t any field hockey teams in Aroostook County, but the Aroostook League will have to make a decision about soccer. It approved an eight-game regular-season schedule for its two soccer divisions, large schools and small schools, and was going to have quarterfinals, semifinals and championship games for boys and girls teams in each division.

They can still have quarterfinals and semifinals, but the championship games would be the 11th for the teams involved.

The Aroostook League was hoping to receive a waiver from the MPA to allow them to play those championship games.

That won’t happen now.

Mike Bisson, the assistant executive director of the MPA, said they have had some requests to expand the number of games by one or two and they explored that option.

“But the way things have gone for some parts of the state, it isn’t prudent to give some schools even more games when others haven’t played at all,” he said, referring to York and Oxford counties, where coronavirus cases have shut down extracurricular activities.

“We put out our [10-game schedule] guidelines and it wouldn’t send the right message to make exceptions,” he added.

Schools in York and Oxford counties had their color designation downgraded from green to yellow, which indicates a moderate level of risk to the community and requires the implementation of additional precautions such as suspending extracurricular activities and competitions between schools.

Penobscot Valley Conference athletic directors had previously discussed playoffs involving as many as eight teams in a division in soccer and six in field hockey. There would have been quarterfinals, semifinals and a championship game. Teams that lost in the quarterfinals might have even been given an extra game against another quarterfinal-round loser.

With Nov. 14 being the last day of competition allowed, most of the schools locked in their 10-game regular season schedules by Oct. 26 so they would have two weeks for the playoffs if it became a reality.

“I can understand where [the MPA] is coming from,” Orono Athletic Director Mike Archer said. “There are a lot of schools in the state that aren’t getting the opportunity we are through no fault of their own. We were trying to give the kids a little extra competition and put a little more meaning into the season [with playoffs]. It would have made it feel like more of a real season.”

But Archer added that they knew everything would have had to fall into place to get the playoff format approved by the MPA.

“The good thing is we left all this room at the back end of our schedule, so if we get any rainouts, we will be able to reschedule beyond Oct. 26,” he said.

Archer added that he doesn’t think his student-athletes will be too upset by the news.

“They’re happy just to be playing right now,” Archer said.

The Aroostook League appears to have two options: sticking with its schedule and not having championship games, or ditching the playoffs and adding regular season games so teams can reach 10.

“The league will have to figure out where to go from here,” Presque Isle Athletic Director Mark White said.

“I have no ill will toward anybody. We’re just glad to be able to play 10 games. It’s a lot better than last spring,” said White, referring to the fact that spring sports were canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.