What’s ahead for Central Mass. football?

So the latest attempt to create a football playoff for Massachusetts has come and gone. Where do we go from here?

There was a lot to like about the Birkhead proposal. It would have provided a true state champion and kept Thanksgiving games in place – which were two of the main criteria from football fans. It was interesting to see the wave this plan created. When it was floated around two years ago, it was met with much fanfare and thoughts it would  solve all the problems high school football had in the state. But once people started checking under the hood, there was a lot of questions that the plan and its creators couldn’t answer. That led to last Friday’s vote of nearly a 2-1 margin to vote the plan down.

In the end, there was a sense of mistrust for the plan. The fact the schedules for non-playoff teams were to be created on the fly by a to-be-determined committee was a big issue. The plan eliminated a lot of the traditional rivalries – and also sacrificed 20-minute bus trips in favor of more 1-hour plus trips – was another huge issue.

There was also a big problem with where schools were placed in their enrollment. Eastern Mass. had a modifier for private schools (male enrollment multiplied by 1.3) and “city schools” (male enrollment multiplied by 0.3). Those numbers were taken from similar state playoff formats in states like New Jersey. So the Eastern Mass. schools were divided by that – but the Central and Western Mass. schools weren’t.

The MIAA told those schools that had problems with their placement to appeal – and from talking to coaches and athletic directors before last week, that line was going to be pretty long. So because of all those appeals, what was voted on wouldn’t be what was going to be taking place in 2011.

So what happens now?

Once the proposal was voted down, you could see the Mid-Wach athletic directors plotting their next move. It’s no secret the Mid-Wach would love nothing more than to separate from the football and hockey alignments and do their own thing. It’s easier for them to schedule games and have everything else under their own banner. Football Committee chairman Jim Pignataro mentioned it seemed to him the Mid-Wach would ask to split from the current format after next year, which would cause a new alignment to be created for Central Mass.

So if they’re successful, and I think they will be, we can look to what happened with lacrosse last year as a guide to how football will look for Central Mass. in 2011.

I’m told there is a Mid-Wach Football format being drawn up by a few ADs. I haven’t seen that yet, but I’m guessing you’ll probably see three Mid-Wach Leagues – A, B, and C which will put all the Division 1, 2 and 3 schools in those leagues. I think the SWCL will also end up doing their own thing, probably with two or three Division 2 leagues set up depending on if they want to keep the Central, East and West formats.

You’ll also probably get the City Conference of Doherty, North, South and Burncoat together. Worcester Tech might jump in there – but I think there could be the creation of a “Tech League” like there sort of is now – as well as St. Peter-Marian and Holy Name.

You might see teams like Nipmuc jump in with the SWCL teams, like they did with lacrosse.

Then there’s the big gorilla involved – St. John’s. Where do they go? Do they leave Central Mass.? Do they jump in with Holy Name and SPM? I don’t know. I think the best thing would be for the Pioneers to play in Central Mass. and just take an Independent League alignment if this is the case. Love them or hate them, they’re too valuable for Central Mass. to lose.

The Pioneers could still get their games against teams like Wachusett, Leominster, Fitchburg, Shrewsbury and the rest. They can keep their games against Longmeadow, Xaverian and St. John’s Prep. That would be the best scenario for Central Mass. The Pioneers draw too well for schools to want to give up that gate.

I think with the league format in place, teams could still be slotted as “Division 1, 2 or 3” teams. At the end of the year you take all the teams and rank them by power ratings and the top eight move into the playoffs after Thanksgiving. Play the games on the next Tuesday like they do now, then power rank them again. The two two teams meet the following Saturday in the Central Mass. Super Bowls. The 3-4 teams meet in the Runner-up Bowl.

It’s probably the best situation you’re going to find for now. Of course, you could get a true state playoff tomorrow if they’d just agree to move the winter and spring seasons back a week. Or maybe they could look into moving the fall season up a week, playing the first week of playoffs before Thanksgiving, then having the state playoffs after Turkey Day. There still is time to save this thing, they just need to look at what’s best for the athletes, the schools and the fans.

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