AUGUSTA, Maine — Amid conversation about tiered scheduling and even a five-class proposal for its sport, the football committee of the Maine Principals’ Association approved modest changes to its recommended plan for the next two-year reclassification cycle on Tuesday.

One change was to adjust the minimum number of students for a Class A football-playing school from 840 to 845, which likely would result in Class A having two seven-school divisions next season.

Other proposed changes would shift Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston from Western C to Eastern C and Camden Hills from Western D to Eastern D.

That would leave the state’s 77 varsity football-playing schools divided in the following manner: Eastern A and Western A (seven schools each), Eastern B (10), Western B (12), Eastern and Western C (10 schools each), Eastern D (12) and Western D (9).

Those classes also would be identified differently if a separate proposal that gained backing from the Maine Principals’ Association’s classification committee on Feb. 24 gains final approval. That change, applicable to all sports sponsored by the Maine Principals’ Association, would rename Eastern Maine and Western Maine as North and South to better reflect how the regional sports landscape is divided.

All classification-related recommendations are subject to approval by the Maine Principals’ Association’s general membership at its annual spring conference scheduled for April 30-May1.

Tuesday’s football committee meeting was prompted by the proposed change of a Maine Principals’ Association rule that requires schools that successfully petition to play in a class or more higher than their designated class by enrollment in a given sport for four years before having the chance to revisit that option.

A recent effort by Biddeford High School — a Class B school by enrollment that successfully petitioned to remain in Class A football two years ago — to drop to Class B two years in advance of the current rule beginning next fall fostered subsequent discussion about changing the rule to bring it in line with the biennial reclassification cycle traditionally used for all Maine Principals’ Association-sanctioned sports.

“I think there’s a perception out there that this is a Biddeford proposal,” said Mike Burnham, Maine Principals’ Association liaison to the football committee. “It is not.”

If that proposal passes, four schools — Biddeford, Cheverus of Portland, Mountain Valley of Rumford and Wells — would have the option to move down next fall to their respective classes as determined by enrollment.

Burnham said that based on his conversations with officials of those four schools, only Biddeford would opt to drop down immediately, in its case to Western Maine Class B. Cheverus officials indicated to him that it would continue to play in Western A, while Burnham said Mountain Valley and Wells were expected to remain in Western C rather than drop to Class D for the next two years.

The proposed change in the Class A minimum enrollment would drop a struggling Noble of North Berwick program from Class A to Class B along with Biddeford, providing an even number of schools for Western B and leaving Class A with an even number of schools statewide.

“Obviously we want to be in front of things here, and if Biddeford’s appeal is approved it creates an odd number in Class A from a scheduling standpoint so the recommendation of the committee to move both Noble and Biddeford to Class B evens the numbers out and makes scheduling much easier,” said Brendan Scully, activities and athletics director at Massabesic High School of Waterboro, a Western A football program.

“It’s a smaller class now with 14 schools in Class A football, but we can create a competitive schedule and provide two teams to play each other in November [for the state title].”

With Class A at 14 schools, the committee recommended shifting Windham from East to West to leave both divisions with seven teams rather than splitting the three Portland schools in the East — Cheverus, Deering and Portland.

The two seven-team divisions likely would use one of two scheduling options for the next two seasons. One would involve an eight-game regular season with two crossover games followed by a six-team regional playoff over three weeks with the top two teams in both East and West earning first-round byes.

The second option could involve a nine-game regular season with three crossover games for each school followed by a two-week, four-team regional playoff in both East and West.

“The solution works well for us,” said Jason Fuller, athletic administrator at Eastern A Lewiston High School. “Over the last two years, we’ve worked well with Western Maine in establishing crossovers and things like that, so I think we can just expand that a little more and make a schedule that works for all the schools involved.”

Committee members also were presented a five-class proposal for high school football developed in large part by Leavitt of Turner Center coach Mike Hathaway and introduced at the meeting by Dan O’Connell, assistant athletic administrator and head football coach at John Bapst of Bangor.

The proposal would seek to expand opportunities for tiered scheduling — which matches top-level teams against each other and struggling programs against each other as much as possible during the regular season — in an effort to enhance competitive balance.

In some cases that would be provided by crossover-game opportunities between Eastern and Western teams in the same class, and in other cases, those crossover games would match teams from different classes in the same region.

Tiered scheduling already is being used within some leagues in the state but has yet to be used to schedule games between teams from different classes.

Football committee members and league representatives at the meeting generally were receptive to elements of the five-class plan but agreed it was too late in the current reclassification cycle to consider such a significant change.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...