WMass voices concerns over MIAA statewide tournament at regional meeting

Staff Writer
Published: 2/24/2020 11:25:14 PM

CHICOPEE — Members of the MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee held an information session Monday about the proposed move to a statewide tournament.

Chairman Jim O’Leary, former athletic director at St. John’s Prep, and Northampton Interim Associate Principal Kara Sheridan, who is on the committee, explained the proposal to around 40 attendees in the Chicopee Comp auditorium.

A yes or no vote on whether to adopt the statewide tournament structure will be held in a Special Meeting of the Assembly at Assabet Valley Regional on Friday. Check in will begin at 9 a.m., and the meeting will be called to order at 9:45 a.m. Between then and 10:45 a.m., when the vote will be taken by written ballot, proponents and opponents can speak in an alternating pattern for up to 90 seconds.

Currently 242 of the 380 schools have signed up to attend.

“It’s arguably the biggest shakeup to athletics in Massachusetts, ever,” Sheridan said.

A yes vote would eliminate sectional tournaments that have existed since 1978 in favor of a statewide bracket for the 2021-22 school year. Regions, like Western Mass, could still hold their own end of the regular season tournaments to crown an area champion.

The top 32 teams in each of up to five divisions ranked by MaxPreps will qualify for the tournament. Teams with a record better than 50 percent will also qualify and be placed in play-in games where the winners reach the field of 32.

Brackets will be divided into four regions much like NCAA basketball tournaments, and the MIAA will award trophies and banners for advancing out of the region and to the state semifinals.

The higher seeded teams will host games until the quarterfinals, at which point the games will move to predetermined sites. Gate receipts will go to the MIAA after the Round of 16.

With a no vote, sectional tournaments will remain but be conducted in balanced sections and divisions. Each of the five divisions in the realignment cycle will need to have the same number of schools, so as schools petition to move up or down, schools in the corresponding division will have to go the opposite direction.

The balanced sections will necessitate many teams moving into the West and Central sections to have the same number in each because there are more schools in the eastern part of the state.

“I hate to say pick your poison,” O’Leary said. “There’s impact on the people in this room no matter what.”

That decision was born of a mandate on the Tournament Management Committee in 2016 to find a way to eliminate inconsistencies among the sections and in the tournaments. For example, teams in the higher divisions in western Mass. usually have to play fewer games to reach a state semifinal or championship than schools in the same divisions out east.

“Our plan (at first) was not statewide,” O’Leary said. “The more we looked at this, it looked like statewide is the most fair and equitable way to run a tournament.”

One of the first concerns attendees brought up was travel. Coaches and athletic directors were worried about parents needing to drive multiple hours across the state during rush hour to see potentially their child’s final game. Day games could exacerbate the problem. O’Leary mentioned a potential move to more weekend games as a potential solution and that the games regularly won’t be as far away as feared. New divisional alignments – schools will be aligned based on combined enrollment – will place many western Mass. schools in lower divisions so they’re involved in the same tournament anyway.

“The league structure and the sectionals are so ingrained, but that’s not the norm in most of the country,” O’Leary said. “We know that how we’re doing it now is not working for the whole state, it’s simple as that.”

Some in attendance contended the proposal is designed to benefit eastern schools. Greenfield baseball coach Tom Suchanek mentioned that western Massachusetts schools have won a small percentage of state championships and feared that number could shrink further under the statewide format. O’Leary said it could increase because of the percentage of the lower three divisions that are made of western Mass. teams.

Sheridan voiced her excitement that more teams from the West could now be involved in the state tournament rather than just one.

“Instead of picking at all the ways this could be wrong, there are ways to look at how western Mass. could benefit,” she said.

Sheridan’s two biggest concerns with the proposal are the loss of the Western Mass. tournaments and the financial implications.

“Very rarely do folks think ‘I’m gonna win a state championship,’ their vision is just on Western Mass,” Sheridan said. “I think with this alignment and this opportunity, that might shift a little bit. Maybe more folks will be thinking the state championship is more in reach.”

The meeting also addressed questions about the MIAA’s move to seeding by MaxPreps next school year. There will be no money exchange between the MIAA and MaxPreps, O’Leary said. Former Smith Academy athletic director Dave Keir questioned the notion of using margin of victory in the seeding formula since running up the score runs counter to the MIAA’s educational athletics mission. South Hadley football coach Scott Taylor brought up the example of a football team being ahead and in the red zone with a dying clock and needing to go for another score to get the maximum amount of points from the margin of victory.

MaxPreps’ formula is proprietary but available if a curious party wants to read the 27-page document.

Hampshire Regional softball coach Brian McGan wondered if being a small school playing larger schools on a regular basis will help his seed. The size of the school doesn’t matter, MaxPreps’ rating is based on the team’s record and who they’ve played and who their opponents have played. The rating goes six teams deep.

“We’re trying not to be subjective anymore. MaxPreps is a starting point,” O’Leary said.

The move to a state tournament could also necessitate changes to the state’s league and schedule structure, but the PVIAC and other organizations like it will need to see what the state does with Friday’s vote to figure out how to respond.

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