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Massachusetts schools say ‘yes’ to statewide format in 2013

MARLBOROUGH — There will be a statewide football playoff next fall.

Representatives from 292 football schools across Massachusetts met at Assabet Valley Regional High School Friday morning and voted 161-131 in favor of enacting a proposal to form a statewide playoff.

“This is great news for football across the state, especially close to home for our student athletes,” Athol High School athletic director and District F committee member Dave King said immediately following the vote. “This will give recognition to the best football team in each division in Massachusetts and it is putting Massachusetts football back on track to legitimacy of having true champions.”

Under the new format there will now be six divisions in the state. Western and central Mass. will have teams in divisions 2, 4, 5 and 6, while the two eastern Mass. districts will have teams in all six divisions. Leagues will still remain in existence, and teams will play a seven- or eight-game regular season, which is also being referred to as the “Qualification Period.”

Those eight weeks will end after the first week of November, and four teams from each division in western Mass. will compete in a regional playoff to determine the western Mass. champion (because there are more schools in the central and eastern part of the state, the regional playoffs will consist of eight teams). Semifinal games will take place the second week of November, while the western Mass. finals will take place the third week. All of these games will take place at the site of the higher seed.

Those teams that do not qualify for the playoffs will fill out the rest of their regular season schedule with other teams not in the tournament. Also, teams that lose in the WMass semifinals will play the following week to complete their schedule.

The weekend before Thanksgiving will be open to all teams that did not qualify for the state playoff, while those teams that did will play the state semifinal the weekend before Turkey Day. Just like in many other sports, the West champion will play the Central champion, and the two East champions will play. Thanksgiving games will go on as usual, and then, nine days after Thanksgiving, all six Super Bowl games will be played at Gillette Stadium.

The football committee began Friday’s meeting by giving a short presentation to explain the goals of the format in order to try and quash any concerns schools may have. The committee explained that on top of establishing six true state champions, they wanted to make sure to maintain both Thanksgiving Day games as well as leagues. There will be more postseason opportunities for student athletes, and less of a safety concern than the current format, where some teams play three games in nine days around Thanksgiving. All regions get a chance to have a team play at Gillette Stadium, and the plan is less intrusive on winter sports — only 12 teams will play after Thanksgiving, as opposed to 74 under the current format.

King was one of a handful of football committee members that spent countless hours hashing out the most recent proposal, which came after previous attempts to create a state-wide playoff were voted down. In 2009, the Football Board of Directors accepted a proposal for a state-wide playoff, but that was later voted down by a 114-190 vote. Committee members went back to work and came up with the most recent proposal, which will run on a two-year pilot beginning next fall and after two years, the plan will be reassessed, allowing for appropriate adjustments.

It was nearly a no-brainer for western Mass. schools, and many in attendance said that all but one or two schools from the Pioneer Valley likely voted in favor of the proposal. Berkshire County schools may have taken issue with the proposal because the new format will eliminate the Berkshire County Championship game. It was also felt that central Mass. schools were also likely in favor.

While all voting was confidential, it was well known that the majority of schools voting against the proposal likely came from the eastern part of the state. The sentiment was echoed by Boston Herald high school sports writer Dan Ventura, who on Twitter wrote that all 19 Boston-area schools were advised to vote against the proposal. He went on to list a voting breakdown by league for the eastern part of the state, with the majority appearing to be against it. The main reasons those schools were not in favor appeared to be due to the numerous rivalry games that take place in that part of the state, as well as the fact that eastern teams already play Super Bowl games at Gillette

But in the end, those in favor won out and football is no longer the only team sport in the state not to have a state-wide playoff. A breakdown of each division is expected to be released in the near future.

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