Editorial: Tournament change bad news for Franklin County sports

  • Frontier’s Gabe Jones-Thomson, middle, drives to the hoop between Greenfield defenders Maverick Ward (12) and Henry Zwart (10) in the fourth quarter Friday night at Goodnow Gymnasium in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Published: 1/15/2020 9:08:33 AM
Modified: 1/15/2020 9:07:43 AM

If next month’s vote goes as expected, high school sports as we know it in Franklin County will look very different in short order.

As reported in last week’s Recorder, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), the state’s governing body of high school sports, is in the final stages of a proposal that would eliminate sectional tournaments. The postseason format in every sport would shift to a statewide tournament, with teams aligned into five divisions in most sports, three or four in others. From there, the top 32 schools across the state in each division would qualify for the postseason, with rankings handled by MaxPreps, an online organization that already does this for several states across the country.

There’s a lot to unpack here. At the heart of the matter, however, seems to be a show of strength from schools in the eastern portion of the state. That’s certainly not a new feeling for Western Mass. schools or the region in general. It’s long been a “little brother” feel for us out here, and this proposal further drives that point home.

The MIAA acknowledged during a press conference last week that part of the reason for proposing this drastic change was, indeed, geographically motivated. The Tournament Management Committee (TMC) admitted the fact that Western Mass. schools generally play fewer games to get to a state championship than teams in the eastern part of the state was “the original impetus behind” the far-reaching changes to the tournament.

“It’s an eastern Mass. driven thing. We get that,” Greenfield Athletic Director Mike Kuchieski said last week of the proposal. “Out West, we have something good going. Why are we breaking something that works really well for us? That’s the biggest question mark out here.”

The MIAA is referring to the fact that sectional tournaments in Western Mass. are often smaller than those across the state. That’s no surprise, if you look at the number of schools out here in comparison. That means, to our friends to the east, that the whole system needed to be changed. There’s no reason that Western Mass. schools should be competing on the big state, right? Better come up with a fix.

Schools in Boston didn’t like the perceived implication that Western Mass. had an advantage. That’s how we got here.

They’ve got the votes, too. A simple majority of the Commonwealth’s nearly 400 MIAA schools is needed to pass the proposal. Even if every single Western and Central Mass. school votes no, the other part of the state can still send the measure through with room to spare. The power players at the state level anticipate this happening, and a vote could come as early as next month.

Franklin County schools will suffer from this impending proposal. That’s the bottom line here. State tournaments will be interesting fodder, no doubt, but without Western Mass. tournaments, the area’s ability to consistently be in the hunt for titles will be diminished significantly. And postseason rivalries in some sports will most certainly become a thing of the past. Think Frontier-Greenfield field hockey, Frontier-Lee volleyball, Frontier-Taconic baseball. Yes, there’s a chance those schools see each other in the new state tournament format, but those chances are slim compared to sectional tournaments. Frontier and Greenfield have been on a collision course in the Western Mass. field hockey tournament, meeting for the title five years in a row. Now, you’ll get to drive two hours to watch one of them play someone on the North Shore in a Round of 32 match-up. Not the same thrill.

“It’s a special thing, especially for us out in Western Mass.,” Athol Athletic Director Dan Bevis said. “Speaking specifically for us (at Athol), we haven’t had a Western Mass. champion since 2003. The last time we sent a team to the final was 2011, I think. A Western Mass. title would be huge for our school. State titles are hard to come by in any sport. Losing the sectional tournament is huge.”

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