What’s this? The Cheverus and Portland and Deering high school football programs have been uprooted from their traditional home in Western Maine sports and put in — gasp — Eastern Maine?
Biddeford is no longer a Class A school and its rivalry with Thornton Academy is dead? Wells’ reward for winning the Class B state championship last fall will be to drop to the newly created Class D, joining Mountain Valley, the small, highly successful football program with its own big reputation for smash-mouth football?
The report from the Maine Principals’ Association’s football committee released this week envisioned a new football landscape in the name of realignment from three to four classifications. The key word is envisioned. Before anyone swallows their pom-poms, understand that the report is a proposal, not an edict.
Consider the fine print, too. Even if Eastern Maine becomes home to the three football teams in Portland, there won’t be two-hour bus rides during the regular season, burning fuel and tire rubber to play Bangor.
“The proposal is strictly for the playoffs only,” said Mike Burnham, the MPA’s assistant executive director who sat in on the football committee meetings. “The regular-season schedule is entirely local.”
Meaning, neither the MPA nor the committee is asking or ever asked for traditional rivalries to end when schools move to another classification. Conference schedules have more to do with those disruptions.
Individual schools and their communities also will decide if they want to petition the MPA to switch classifications.
Jack Molloy, the Wells High athletic director, said Friday his school supports the four-class proposal. Wells will ask to move up to the new Class C, joining York, Leavitt, Cape Elizabeth and others.
“It’s a decision school departments and communities need to make,” said Burnham. “Each school has its own tradition and pride, and all that is respected.”
The expansion of schools playing high school football in the past 10 years led to a call for realignment. The MPA has advocated historically for classes of 20 schools, give or take, based on enrollment. Seventy-six MPA schools offer football, which is one reason why four classes have been proposed.
Of the 76, only 19 reported increased enrollments, said Burnham. Fifty-seven schools have lost students.
Cony High in the state’s capital has always been among the largest schools. Now it has about 787, placing it in the proposed Class B.
Biddeford was synonymous with Class A championship football in the 1980s and ’90s. The Tigers lost enrollment and became one of the smallest of the Class A schools under the current classification. It went winless in 2011, although enrollment alone wasn’t the main factor. Biddeford must decide its future. A number of schools face the same decision.
Here’s another decision that could be made: change the system that ranks teams for the Maine high school playoffs. The Crabtree system or formula is used currently. Burnham said the committee could propose another system to rank teams for playoff purposes that would encourage teams to schedule games across class lines.
The timeline? The committee proposal will be mailed to schools. The decision to remain in the proposed realignment or move should be made by early August. The football committee meets again later in August to review the schools’ decisions.
A second draft of the proposal is due at the beginning of the 2012 season. The classification committee will review that and make a recommendation at the end of the season. The revised proposal will go to the management committee and then to the full MPA membership for a vote.
“What the football committee did this week is a nice first step,” said Burnham. “There will be two more opportunities for changes.”
Which is why Mike McCullum, the Portland High athletic director, reserved judgment Friday. “I’ve heard some questions but no real reaction. It’s just a proposal. There’s nothing tangible there until I see a schedule and until we know that schools are going to petition to move.”
We’ve been conditioned to criticize any MPA proposal because, well, it’s the MPA. It’s a private organization that serves Maine principals and not necessarily the public. I’ve accused it of being tone-deaf to Mainers.
Not this time. The state is skewed by geography and population growth and decline. Easy answers? Forget it.
The MPA is inviting comment. Talk to your high school principals and athletic directors. Hey, Burnham said the committee even turned to Travis Lazarczyk of the Central Maine Newspapers and Ernie Clark of the Bangor Daily News, who attended the meetings, and asked for their comments.
“I can tell you what they said was worth more than two cents,” said Burnham. “We wanted to hear.”
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: