The Maine Principals’ Association football committee took a step Monday toward branching out beyond the traditional criterion of school enrollment to classify high school teams around the state in that sport.

The panel voted unanimously to approve the addition of 16 schools to the state’s two, eight-player divisions this fall.

That will bring to 26 the number of schools that will compete in the second year of eight-player football in Maine. There will be 13 large-school programs with enrollments of 375 students or more and 13 small-school teams with enrollments of 374 students or less playing for separate state championships.

Those schools, and others that seek to move from the 11-player ranks to one of the eight-player divisions beginning in 2021, will be tasked next year to complete an application. That survey will poll prospective participants on issues beyond enrollment, which traditionally has been the lone determinant in classification for all sports.

The process, which is subject to consideration by other MPA committees before becoming part of the final football report to the association’s full membership this spring, looks at each program’s recent history, strength and future potential through the following inquiries:

— Is the program’s intent to rebuild in hopes of returning to the 11-player ranks or to remain an eight-player program?

— Anticipated roster size by class (freshmen through seniors).

— Team’s record for the previous three years.

— Has the program supported junior varsity and/or freshman teams?

— Projected future roster sizes through participation numbers at the middle-school and youth football levels.

— Number of coaches on high school staff.

— Tenure of high school varsity head coach.

— Program rationale for move or continuing presence in eight-player division.

“If the intent is to drop down to be successful, just because they’re not successful in 11-man, that’s not the right intent,” committee member Fred Lower, athletic administrator at Hampden Academy, said.

Teams targeted for the eight-player large-school division are Mt. Ararat of Topsham (709 enrollment), Camden Hills of Rockport (693), Gray-New Gloucester (596), Morse of Bath (583), Lake Region of Naples (535), Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor (531), Waterville (516), Yarmouth (509), Ellsworth (455), Washington Academy of East Machias (404), Spruce Mountain of Jay (402), Cheverus of Portland (394) and Mountain Valley of Rumford (375).

Expected to play in the eight-player, small-school ranks in 2020 are Mount View of Thorndike (374), Maranacook of Readfield (361), Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln (341), Orono (338), Houlton (336), Sacopee Valley of South Hiram (310), Dexter (290), Traip Academy of Kittery (255), Old Orchard Beach (243), Dirigo of Dixfield (219), Boothbay (199), Telstar of Bethel (199) and Stearns of Millinocket (168).

The MPA football committee plans to use a similar application after backing a proposal to eliminate the ban on postseason competition for any school that wishes to compete in a class lower than the one determined by enrollment.

Schools have had the opportunity to play down a class — or even two classes — in the past but under MPA rules have been ineligible for the playoffs in those cases.

But the rapid growth of the eight-player football divisions has left Class D, the smallest class for the state’s 51 traditional, 11-player programs, with only six teams statewide.

Officials at the six remaining Class D schools — Bucksport, Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft, Lisbon-St. Dominic, Madison-Carrabec, Winthrop-Monmouth/Hall-Dale and Oak Hill of Wales — met in mid-February to discuss their shrinking membership and subsequently questioned several Class C schools about their interest in moving down if they could be granted playoff eligibility.

“I think the fact there were just six schools left in Class D started the conversation,” said Mike Burnham, executive director for the MPA interscholastic division. “But it morphed into a much larger conversation for communities where maybe their programs are struggling in a given class to maybe go down and compete in a lower class.”

Schools seeking to move down a class and remain eligible for postseason play will be subject to an application process beginning this year that would enable the football committee to use multiple factors in ruling on each reclassification request, if the effort gains final approval.

“This was a very productive conversation as we start to look at factors other than just enrollment,” Burnham said. “In football where we allowed schools to apply down and not be eligible for the playoffs it made sense for the committee to be proactive and look at those other factors.”

The football committee also voted unanimously to support taking up football classification annually rather than as part of the two-year classification cycle the MPA uses for other sports.

The panel already is doing just that, given that the 2020 season will be the second year of the current two-year classification cycle.

“At the end of the 2020 season, we’ll go back and evaluate and see how things went and make any necessary adjustments,” Burnham said.

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...