By STEPHEN MARTELLUCCI
LYNNFIELD — With the Super Bowls being played last Saturday at Gillette Stadium, another season of Massachusetts high school football is now officially in the books. It also marks the end of the second season of the new playoff format. Next year, the format will stay the same before it is looked at and maybe changed.
The sooner they change, the better. The new system has too many flaws.
With this format there are seven regular season games and the top eight teams in each division, in each section of the state, qualify for the playoffs. You automatically qualify for the playoffs by winning or coming in second place in your league. The other slots are determined by a ratings points system.
Problem number one is that, since all eight slots have to be filled, several teams with losing records qualify. In Division 3 Northeast, five of the schools had losing records with the eighth slot, Revere, qualifying at 2–5. In Division 2 Northwest, Burlington and Winchester qualified with 2–5 records as well.
The second problem is that football is the only Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association sport in which you play games after you get eliminated in the playoffs. If you lose in the first week you have three more games to play. You play two more if you lose in the second round and the one Thanksgiving game if you lose in the third round.
Do you think that the kids are going to be motivated to play meaningless games after they get eliminated?
For the teams that don’t qualify, they play three non–playoff games along with Thanksgiving. The problem with these contests is that teams have more expenses because they have to travel further and the attendance at these games has been poor in general.
The final issue is the Thanksgiving Day game. The holiday game has become anticlimactic in several long–lasting rivalries as schools have to play each other in the opening seven weeks in a game that means much more than the Turkey Day rematch.
Examples of this are Swampscott and Marblehead and Winthrop and Revere which both played each other twice. To make matters worse, Woburn and Winchester, along with Melrose and Wakefield, played an unprecedented three times this season as the teams met in the regular season, playoffs and Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving has always been a special game and the multiple match-ups have diluted it. It is also the biggest day financially for the schools’ athletic programs and several schools have taken hits at the box office as the attendance is down.
The biggest winner with this new system is the MIAA itself as they get a cut of all of the playoff games played throughout the state, and with seven games in each division and all of the different sections, they do very well in the pocketbook.
Some of the solutions that have been discussed have been that only the top four teams qualify and that you play an eight-game regular season. Also, second-place teams will not automatically qualify if their ratings points are not high enough compared to other schools.
I think the best solution is to go back to the old system. Yes, you will have more Super Bowl champions. I also understand the teams that make the states will have to play the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and then, if they win, play that following Saturday in the Super Bowl but I think the three games in nine days is worth it in the long run.
However, you preserve the luster of Thanksgiving and, in some cases, that game may be the difference between whether or not a team qualifies for the playoffs.
Also teams will get to play all of the teams in their league as crossover games in the same conference can take place. Fans will not have to travel too far, unlike the non–playoff games.
It will be interesting to see what the coaches and athletic directors around the state do after next year.