It may be the off-season for high school football in Maine but the effort to create a more competitive atmosphere for the sport continues.
The Maine Principals’ Association’s football committee on Thursday considered a proposal that would allow more matchups between teams of similar strengths, even if it requires a loosening of the traditional conference schedules, to cut down on the number of games that end in blowouts.
The plan would likely require a minimum number of intra-class games in advance of postseason play, but more out-of-class contests might also allow for more rivalry games between neighboring schools now in different classes.
“To me, if there’s a way for the MPA football committee to say, ‘Bring us the two best teams for the state championship,’ and then you figure out your schedules hopefully through a committee … then I think football in Maine will be improved in a way that we haven’t unearthed yet,” said Dan O’Connell, head football coach and athletic administrator at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor and a liaison to the MPA football committee through his work with the Maine Football Coaches Association.
A statewide, or cross-class, approach could create opportunities for more matchups between teams of similar talent levels across Maine’s 77 high school football programs, even if those teams are separated by one or more classes. It’s a deviation from the traditional schedule that relies on intra-conference matchups defined by school enrollment numbers, even if those games end in lop-sided scores.
The disparity between the state’s best and worst high school programs has been evident for years, not just during the regular season but also during the playoffs that crown state champions.
Last fall, 16 of the 41 11-player postseason games were decided by at least 25 points. Ten of those games had at least a 30-point margin of victory, including scores of 47-0, 56-0 and 63-14 during first-round play. Cape Elizabeth defeated Winslow 53-8 in the Class C state championship game.
In the second season of the higher-scoring 8-player version, 11 of the 22 postseason games were decided by 35 points or more, including Cheverus of Portland’s 56-0 victory over Waterville in the large-school state final.
“All of the things we’ve done over the past decade have really helped football and I think the next step is the schedule piece,” O’Connell said. “Football is defined by something more than [enrollment] numbers, and if that’s the case scheduling has to take priority in my estimation.”
While the MPA does not want to schedule regular-season games, conference officials from around the state who typically develop schedules for their leagues are going to be asked to form a panel and develop a more competitive statewide schedule. Football committee members are optimistic that such a gathering will take place soon.
That panel may be modeled after a committee that now establishes a statewide schedule for ice hockey each year, or a football scheduling panel that met two years ago.
“We all started out in the same room and had a lengthy discussion and through that, because of the dynamics of the conferences at that time, it was realized that ‘OK, C and D need to work with each other and A and B need to work with each other,’” said MPA football committee chair Fred Lower, athletic administrator at Hampden Academy. “That might be different this time.”
And with Classes B and D each having an odd number of teams heading into the 2022 season, potential byes may be eliminated given the even number of 11-player teams (52) set to play around the state this fall.
“I think it’s another step in the journey we’ve been on to try and create competitive football in the state and help grow the sport,” said Derek Galway, assistant principal at Leavitt Area High School in Turner Center.