The Maine Principals’ Association’s Football Committee and a large group of concerned high school football coaches agree the time is right to add a fifth class in an effort to bring four programs back to varsity status.

But the best way to design the fifth class is still a question of debate. Tweaks have been made to the football committee’s proposal since it was announced Jan. 26, including returning Old Orchard Beach to Class D South instead of placing the program in a new Class E. Now it is Traip Academy listed as part of Class E.

The football committee’s revised five-class proposal goes to the MPA Classification Committee for approval at a meeting scheduled for Monday. All classification plans must be approved at the full membership meeting in April.

The current MPA proposal has six teams in a new Class E. Four of those schools – Boothbay Region, Camden Hills, Sacopee Valley and Telstar – have dropped their varsity programs since 2013.

“We want to try this to get some more regulation for those schools because right now they’re out on an island,” said Ed Hatch, Bucksport’s athletic director and the chair of the football committee. “This is the next step to see if we can help these programs but we realize this isn’t a magic fix-all.”

Maranacook, which went 0-7 in Class D South in 2016, and Traip Academy are also in Class E. Traip, which has often had roster sizes in the low 20s, was 2-6 with a playoff loss in D South in 2016.

Class E would not be a championship-eligible division in the football committee proposal, largely because Camden Hills is a Class B size school. The others would be Class D by enrollment.

A group consisting of 40 of the state’s 78 football coaches also came up with a proposal for reclassification. The coaches designed an eight-team Class E consisting of the four current non-varsity teams, with Class D South teams Maranacook, Old Orchard Beach, Traip Academy and Dirigo. In the coaches’ arrangement, Class E would compete for a championship.

“Our proposal really looks a lot like the MPA proposal except for the fifth division,” said Leavitt Coach Mike Hathaway, one of the key designers from the coach group.

The coaches submitted their proposal to the football committee, which turned it down, saying it was too late to make changes.

After three seasons operating at the junior varsity level, Sacopee Valley is ready to again play a varsity schedule.

“I think we’re ready for either one of those proposals,” said Chris Hughes, Sacopee Valley’s athletic director. “At this point our program is ready for the opponents that are listed in the class we’re projected to be in.”

But Camden Hills might not be ready for varsity play, said the school’s athletic director, Steve Alex. Camden Hills halted its varsity program midway through the 2015 season and played an eight-game JV schedule in 2016 with a roster that hovered around 25 to 28 players.

“Obviously I like the fact that they’re thinking about us but no one says we have to play in that E class. We can continue to be autonomous,” Alex said.

Alex said he’s informed his school board that “the best thing we can do is come back in the fall of 2017 and play more JV teams that are in the same position that we’re in.”

Alex added he is not automatically discounting joining Class E.

“We’ll wait to see what shakes out but we’re going to continue to do what we did last year unless this is an option that looks good, where we’re playing schools where we can play the sport safely. And if we do change, it all requires school board approval,” Alex said.

Hatch said the football committee would like to have Class E “at least try to do a postseason tournament but not for a Gold Ball.”

Class E teams could schedule cross-over games and those games would count toward the Crabtree standings for both teams.

“Now the question is how open (teams) will be to scheduling these (Class E) teams,” Hatch said.

The football committee’s original proposal had Old Orchard Beach, not Traip, in Class E. The Old Orchard Beach principal/superintendent, John Suttie, a former football coach, made it clear his school’s team belongs in a class that competes for a state title. The Seagulls had a roster approaching 40 players and went 3-5 in 2016.

But if Old Orchard had its choice, it would side with the coaches’ suggested Class E.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Suttie said. “We want to play teams that we’re competitive with and we also want to have a chance at making the playoffs. How are we going to stay in our program when we’re playing essentially exhibition games? That approach loses kids. But if you move up and every week get whacked, you lose kids, too.”

Class D South figures to become a tougher division if the football committee proposal is approved. Wells and Mountain Valley, two teams that previously petitioned to Class C, will join the league, as will Poland, Madison/Carrabec, and Spruce Mountain, three former Class C teams experiencing declining enrollment.

The Football Committee is also proposing slight changes to the enrollment breakdowns in an effort to make for more competitive leagues. Class A remains for schools with 845. Class B will be for schools with enrollments from 649-844, Class C for schools 469-650, and Class D for 0-470.

Previously, Class B was for enrollments 586-844, and Class C was 460-585.

The new enrollment breaks will move Leavitt, Morse and York down to Class C South.

Other proposed changes are for Mt. Ararat to switch from Class B South to Class B North. Gardiner and Nokomis will move from B North to C North with the new enrollment breakdowns.

Class A remained unchanged, staying a 14-team class with the same seven schools in both the North and South divisions.

Addressing competitive disparity in all classes is a significant challenge.

“I think we’ve lost five schools in the last few years. We don’t want to see it be five more,” Hathaway said.

(Calais-Woodland disbanded its football program in 2012.)

Both Hatch and Hathaway agree creative scheduling with an emphasis on appropriate cross-over games can help.

“There’ll still be some lopsided games but if you can put two of those off everybody’s schedule then that’s a good start,” Hathaway said.

CORRECTION: This story was updated on Feb. 12 at 11:30 a.m. to correct that Traip Academy, not Stearns/Lee will be in Class E. Also corrected were the proposed enrollment figures for Class B, C, and D, that Morse and York will now be in Class C South, that Gardiner and Nokomis will be in Class C North, and that Poland will be in Class D South.

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