MIAA unveils proposal for statewide tournament that will eliminate sectional format

  • The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association held a media session to discuss a newly proposed statewide tournament, Thursday in Franklin. STAFF PHOTO/GAGE NUTTER

Staff Writer
Published: 1/9/2020 10:04:34 PM
Modified: 1/9/2020 10:03:56 PM

FRANKLIN — The MIAA Tournament Management Committee presented its proposal for a revamped high school statewide tournament for all sports at its office on Thursday.

Saint John’s Prep Athletic Director James O’Leary, MIAA liaison Sherry Bryant, Burlington High School Athletic Director Shaun Hart and Westborough Athletic Director Johanna DiCarlo represented the Tournament Management Committee, delivering a slideshow and answering questions on the proposal.

The current sectional tournament format and divisional alignments will be eliminated under the new proposal.

In the statewide proposal, most sports will be divided into five divisions. Tennis, lacrosse and field hockey will have four divisions. Boys ice hockey will have three. Girls ice hockey, boys volleyball and boys rugby will have two, and girls rugby will have one. Schools will be slotted into their respective divisions based on enrollment.

Tournament seeding will be handled by MaxPreps. In the proposal, the top 32 teams ranked by MaxPreps.com in each division will qualify for the state tournament. Teams not seeded in the top 32 but meeting 50 percent qualifying criteria will still be included in the tournament.

The four highest seeded teams in each division will be placed in separate brackets, much like NCAA basketball tournaments. After the top 32 teams are seeded, the remaining teams that qualified will be seeded at the bottom of each bracket. All games will be at the home site of the higher seed until the state semifinals.

The committee made it clear that finding a competitive balance between opponents and giving schools from all parts of the state an equal path to a state championship game were some of the biggest factors that pushed them to propose these changes.

“What we see, and we see it quite a bit, is that you would have two of the best teams in the same section,” Hart said. “For instance, you have two absolute juggernauts in the North play each other in the state semifinal, then go on to play somebody in the state final that was a lesser opponent.”

With the proposed removal of sectional tournaments, teams will be required to travel across the state for tournament games. Travel expenses could be difficult for some institutions that lack proper funding.

“One superintendent said it best at one of our meetings. He said, ‘I’ll find the money to play a like-sized school rather than having to play a large opponent because they’re prep,” O’Leary said. “We are not really a big state when you look at other states and how they travel and what they do. I know during the regular season I see teams traveling a lot of places in some sports for an 8:20 game and they seem to get there.”

In addition to questions about travel for athletes and coaches, questions were also raised about how fans will be able to travel for games

“Social media, buildup, rankings, we are hoping some of that draws extra attention (to games),” Hart said. “Everybody wants to get up in the morning and see where they are ranked statewide, locally, all of those things. It’s an event. You are not traveling to that particular opponent every day. … It is not an everyday travel. It is a one-time or two-time deal.”

With the new ranking system, athletic directors will be required to submit scores to MaxPreps for games. Questions were raised about how accurate rankings could be if there is an error or an athletic director doesn’t submit a score.

“I am hoping between our news media, people in this office and the way we do our business as a state, I want every single one of us to have every score,” Hart said. “I want all of those things happening because the only way all our kids are going to get recognized at these great big tournaments is that we are all rowing the same way.”

MaxPreps indicated to the committee that when other state associations moved their rankings to the MaxPreps system, they saw data entry percentages go up “exponentially.” The committee also found that it is very difficult for a team to manipulate its schedule to get a high ranking, which also played a factor in using the MaxPreps system.

“It comes down to playing good teams with good schedules. That is the best advice for anybody, which is the same in any power rating system,” O’Leary said. “It comes down to playing good teams and those teams playing other good teams. It goes down to six levels rather than two or three.”

The proposal will be put to a vote at a special meeting in February. A majority vote by the 380 member schools will pass the proposal. The statewide format will be put in place for the 2021-2022 school year. MaxPreps is scheduled to take over rankings and seedings for tournaments beginning in 2020-2021.

The committee recommends the MIAA Board of Directors to require each school in the state to be represented at the meeting next month.

“I support the work the Tournament Management Committee (TMC) has accomplished over the last two years,” Northampton assistant principal and District F TMC representative Kara Sheridan said. “The MIAA Board of Directors charged the TMC with addressing tournament inconsistencies and procedures related to tournament management. The committee has responded thoughtfully and collaboratively with MIAA members to address concerns. It has listened carefully to the unique perspectives and experiences of every section, District F (PVIAC) included. I am excited to continue the work we’ve started and look forward to problem-solving with MIAA and PVIAC members to ensure that we respect and honor the traditions and unique culture of western Mass. athletics while fostering unity and equity with our colleagues across the state.”

The committee made it clear that nothing is finalized and that they are open to feedback on how the proposed format can be improved.

If the current proposal doesn’t pass next month, the committee will be tasked with drawing up an alternative.

“We know that there will be detractors (in western Mass.) that say that ‘this isn’t good for us’,” DiCarlo said. “Part of that is, once they get over the fact that they could be traveling, they realize that the schools that they will be going against will be much more like them than what is currently happening for them right now. You take a school like Minnechaug, they are forced to be Division 1 in everything, or when western Mass. isn’t given divisions in certain sports. They will have 1 and 3, but no 2 and 4. That is not the right way to do it. … While there may be some parts of western Mass. that feels this will not be good for them, hopefully they see it over the whole entire structure.”

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