This would replace the current regional system in which champions are crowned in Central, North, South and West, before advancing to the state semifinals.
FRANKLIN — The landscape of high school playoffs in nearly every sport in the state will undergo a dramatic change beginning in the fall of 2021.
What that will look like remains to be seen, although the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is fully backing an initiative — one two years in the making by the tournament management committee (TMC) — to move to a statewide tournament format.
That would replace the current regional system in which champions are crowned in Central, North, South and West, before advancing to the state semifinals.
To that end, the MIAA board of directors, which unanimously approved the statewide proposal last month, will decide next week whether to put it to a vote of the 380 member schools in a special assembly meeting, likely in late February or early March.
“I’m all about history and I love traditions, but I also think it’s time to move this a little bit forward,” Westboro athletic director and TMC member Johanna DiCarlo said Thursday during a media briefing session at MIAA headquarters.
“This is an incredible opportunity for the Association to change the way we’re doing business and hopefully create something special for our kids and our communities. But there are two different paths that we’ve been taking along the way, as well.”
The other path, should MIAA members vote the statewide format down, would be to keep the current tournament system intact, but shifts schools westward to create better balance in the four regions. For example, in the Division 1 softball tournament last spring there were 24 teams in North, 22 in South, 9 in Central, and 8 in West.
The impact on Central Mass. would be dramatic with, again, using softball as an example, 32 schools being moved to the West and replaced by schools from the North and South. Thirty-four schools would remain in the Central regional.
The TMC, though, strongly supports a statewide tournament for a host of factors.
Among other things:
‒ The format for qualifying would be uniform and seeding would be consistent as it would be done by the high school sports website and online database, MaxPreps, and its software program, which is currently being used in 30 or so states.
‒ Similar-sized schools would be aligned into divisions to improve competitive balance. That would eliminate the likes of, say, Springfield Central, with 2,000 students, playing Duxbury, with an enrollment of 1,000, for the Division 3 state football title, as was the case last month.
‒ Address gender equity issues like how baseball, with 333 teams, has four divisions and softball, with 330 teams has three divisions.
‒ The path to the state semifinals would be equal for all with a 32-team, power-seeded bracket divided into four quadrants of eight teams apiece. Teams that finish outside the top 32, but have a record of .500 or better would qualify for the tournament and participate in play-in games.
‒ And it would allow teams from the same conference or part of the state to meet in the state final, something that is particularly inviting to the likes of, oh, perennial powers St. John’s Prep and Boston College High in the Catholic Conference and Brookline and Newton North in the Bay State Conference.
“A lot of the things that we talked about in terms of the seeding, the inconsistencies in the seeding and the way we do that, the inconsistencies in the way the tournaments are run,” DiCarlo said. “Those were all our beginning reasons for looking into things.
“The more that we looked at those things and tried to solve those problems we kept coming back to, ‘This all goes away if we go statewide. This all becomes a lot easier if we go statewide. This all makes a lot more sense if we go statewide.’ And that’s really how the statewide tournament proposal came to fruition to begin with.”
One thing DiCarlo and fellow TMC members Jim O’Leary, the former St. John’s Prep AD, and Shaun Hart, the current Burlington AD, along with MIAA liaison Sherry Bryant stressed during a two-hour presentation and Q&A session, is the current statewide proposal is not a finished product.
Should it be approved, individual sports committees would have the opportunity to make recommendations to the TMC.
As for questions as to whether the statewide tournament format is a financially driven initiative, well, O’Leary, quickly shot those down.
“I can honestly say it has been discussed, but that is not the direction Tournament Management took with this proposal,” O’Leary said. “This proposal, we feel, is best for the student-athletes in the state and for the Association to run a good, best-quality tournament that we can run”
For more information on the statewide tournament format proposal, go to the tournament management page on miaa.net.