Attrition and divisional shifts have created a unique scheduling scenario for the upcoming high school football season with teams in Class D North playing two more regular-season games than their counterparts in southern Maine.
Class D North, or the LTC, has adopted a nine-game regular-season schedule for the season that begins Sept. 2. Teams in Class D South, which last week dropped to eight schools after Boothbay opted to forego varsity status to play at the club level because of low player turnout and safety concerns, will play just seven games apiece during the regular season.
Individual football conferences around the state have long determined their own regular-season schedules and regional playoff formats, with the Maine Principals’ Association then administering championship games in the sport.
“[The leagues] determine how many teams will qualify for the playoffs,” said Maine Principals’ Association Assistant Executive Director Mike Burnham. “We set parameters around tiebreakers so that everybody’s playing by the same rules, but they set their schedules and playoff qualification.”
With 2016 being the second half of the Maine Principals’ Association’s current biennial classification cycle for all sports, Burnham anticipates the regular-season differential between Class D North and South football will be a one-year aberration.
“This being a classification year and all the variables out there whether it’s with cooperative teams or declining enrollments, the whole landscape of football is going to look different in a year anyways,” he said.
Class D North will have 10 schools this season compared with 12 last year because of Camden Hills’ decision midway through its 2015 schedule to drop to the club level and the shift of Medomak Valley of Waldoboro to Class D South in an effort to provide an even number of teams in both the North and South divisions for scheduling purposes.
As a result of those changes and with just nine schools eligible for postseason play — Ellsworth-Sumner is a Class B program by enrollment but playing in Class D during its developmental phase — Class D North officials voted during the offseason to adopt a nine-game regular season with each of the 10 teams playing every other team in the league once.
That also prompted a switch from the LTC’s recent three-week, six-team regional playoff format to a two-week, four-team format.
One reason for that change, said LTC secretary-treasurer Mike Archer, athletic administrator at Orono High School, was that coaches of teams that finished first and second in the regular-season standings did not like having first-round byes.
“The teams that got the byes found that they didn’t like having that week off at the end of the season, they wanted to keep going,” said Archer. “Football’s a rhythmic sport, you play once a week, and coaches are a creature of habit and so are kids.”
Another reason was the chance to avoid needing a coin toss to determine home-field advantage during the playoffs. That was the case in Class C North last fall when Winslow and Old Town both reached the regional championship game undefeated, but because they didn’t meet earlier in the season, a coin toss was required to determine the host of their championship game.
Old Town won the coin toss, but Winslow traveled to Victory Field and won the game en route to its second straight state championship.
“It’s been so long since the LTC has had 10 teams and had an opportunity to play each other one time each and settle those things on the field,” said Archer. “If you want to make the playoffs, win enough games to do it, and this way you’ve got a chance to beat everybody else head to head.”
Under its new schedule, Class D North will be the only division statewide to play nine regular-season games.
Class D South ended the 2015 season with 10 schools, but Telstar of Bethel dropped to club status during the offseason and Boothbay announced late last week that it would drop to the club level, leaving the division with just eight teams in 2016. Only seven schools are eligible for postseason play — Medomak Valley is a Class C school by enrollment in its second and final year of developmental play.
Campbell Conference officials already had agreed on a seven-game regular-season schedule with byes included based on Telstar’s departure, then re-adjusted the master schedule after Boothbay departed the varsity ranks.
Class D South schools — Dirigo of Dixfield, Lisbon, Oak Hill of Wales, Maranacook of Readfield, Old Orchard Beach, Medomak Valley, Traip Academy of Kittery and Winthrop-Monmouth — now will play a seven-game regular season spread over eight weekends.
Each team will have one bye week, with two teams drawing byes during Weeks 1, 2, 3 and 8 and full four-game schedules in Weeks 4-7.
At least some of the teams have used their bye weeks to schedule exhibition games against club-level programs such as Telstar, Camden Hills and Sacopee Valley of South Hiram in an effort to support those programs as they attempt to build back to varsity status.
Class D South will conduct a six-team, three-week regional playoff format with the top two teams awarded first-round byes.
Last fall, Class D South used an eight-team regional playoff format.