Trillion-dollar deficits, thousands of jobs lost, thousands of jobs gained, it’s almost a shame the MIAA's 371 member schools will gather at Assabet Regional Friday to vote on the proposed state-wide football playoff system.
Numbers are the best way to show why schools should vote in favor of the plan, but in this election season who doesn’t already have a numbers headache? But in asking what’s best for student-athletes, and that is the No. 1 priority, it starts with numbers.
For example, whether it’s the everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality or simply the MIAA committee system run amok, 19 Massachusetts Super Bowls is too many. The number dilutes the importance of the sport’s biggest prize. At almost every Super Bowl someone will celebrate being “state champ.” Sorry, not even close. The new plan has six true state champs, decided at Gillette Stadium.
The last playoff proposal was voted down, 190-114, in March of 2010 and the turnout of more than 300 schools at the annual meeting was a record. The fate of this playoff system could be decided by voter turnout. On a fall Friday, how many schools will show up at Assabet to cast their vote? The hope is for a similar turnout. This proposal is worth the drive.
This one keeps leagues intact, expands playoff participation to more closely mirror other MIAA sports, eliminates the Tuesday semifinals and three games in 10 days, and would reduce the number of schools playing football after Thanksgiving from 74 to 12. And most important, it would give hope to those athletes who pick up their equipment in August knowing they have no chance of making the postseason.
Was it OK that the Hopkinton field hockey team went 6-6-6 last fall and qualified for the South Sectional tournament while the football team was 10-1 and went nowhere? Hopkinton isn’t the only school that should be speeding to Marlboro. Weymouth (9-2), East Bridgewater (10-1), Catholic Memorial (7-2), Bridgewater-Raynham (8-2), North Attleboro (9-1), Mansfield (9-2), Swampscott (9-2), Dighton-Rehoboth (9-2), Arlington Catholic (9-1), St. Mary’s (9-2) , and Greater Lawrence (9-2) all were among the most successful teams at their school, but none went to the playoffs. The East Bridgewater football team had a .910 winning percentage, a shade below the girls’ soccer team, which went 16-1-1 (.917). The girls were the top seed in the Division 2 South sectional and earned a first-round bye. The football team went home.
Of the 371 schools, 237 are from EMass, 73 in CMass, and 61 in WMass. In the last vote it was believed CMass and WMass were against the proposal. This time the opposite appears true. There are 72 schools that don’t have football teams. With no direct link to football, will they show up to vote and how will they vote? There are 21 Boston schools. The city is believed to be against the proposal. Does that mean 21 votes against?
In the debate about the issue, one of the more important numbers is the smallest. The playoff system is a two-year pilot program. Two years, and whatever people don’t like can be changed. This isn’t a lifetime commitment to the format. What’s to lose? Some schools have financial concerns, some fear what the proposal would do to their Thanksgiving rivalry. But those schools need to ask a simple question, what’s best for the student-athletes?
Nineteen teams saying “We’re No. 1” makes us look silly. It’s time to try something new.
Bob Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org