Hermon and Orono battle during a field hockey contest in 2017. Field hockey, along with soccer and volleyball, will have an open tournament format this season to accommodate COVID-19 cancellations. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

The Maine Principals’ Association will return to an open tournament format this fall for varsity soccer, field hockey and volleyball that will allow all schools to participate in the postseason.

The move is an effort to minimize the potential impact of teams having to cancel regular-season contests due to COVID-19 quarantines. Maine has seen a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, with 182 cases reported statewide on Thursday.

The change was approved by the association’s Interscholastic Management Committee during a meeting Thursday morning.

The format will be the same as the MPA used last spring when regional and state championship tournaments resumed for the first time since the coronavirus forced cancellation of the spring 2020 sports season.

Student-athletes resumed play in most sports last fall and winter, but competition was regionalized and no state champions were crowned except for in golf last October.

Playoffs for soccer, field hockey and volleyball are typically determined by Heal points, which are based on a team’s strength of schedule and the quality of its victories. In Heal-point governed high school sports, the top two-thirds of the teams in each regional class normally qualify for postseason play.

The shift to an open tournament may require the tinkering of regular-season schedules in some sports in order to fit in an extra round of playoffs for regional classes with more than 16 teams, according to MPA assistant executive director Mike Bisson.

Bisson said those larger divisions in soccer are Class A South, Class C South and Class D North, while Class A volleyball has 18 schools.

The move to an open tournament doesn’t affect football, golf and cross country.

The MPA leaves the playoff formats for football up to the individual leagues until the state championship games.

“We don’t host the [football] regionals like we do in other sports,” Bisson said. “We ask each league to present us with a champion to send to the state championship.”

Bisson did say each football league would be asked to look at its postseason structure to determine if any changes might be warranted to address the potential impact of lost games during the regular season due to COVID-19 issues on playoff qualification.

Cross country and golf already have open formats. Golf determines its state qualifiers through league championships open to all member teams, while cross country allows all teams to enter regional qualifying meets.

The Interscholastic Management Committee also waived in cases involving COVID-19 the MPA’s requirement that any school that does not complete its submitted regular-season schedule for a sport is suspended from varsity competition leading to postseason play in that sport for the following two years.

The open tournament format resulted in more schools being eligible for postseason play last spring, though some teams at the bottom of the standings declined their invitations.

The additional playoff rounds produced a handful of upsets, most notably in softball when No. 14 Falmouth upset three-time defending state champion and third-seeded Scarborough 5-2 in a Class A South Round of 16 game.

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...