There are still more than two months remaining in this unlike-any-other year, but the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Football Committee is all about how things might play out in 2021.
The committee met virtually for two hours Wednesday morning the headline issues being an update on where things stand with regard to the currently postponed season and what the structure of the ’21 season might look like.
A football subcommittee met earlier this month to discuss multiple topics related to a coronavirus-related season that saw its starting date pushed back from late August to Feb. 22 — the fall II, or wedge, season — once football was classified as a high-risk sport.
The most important would seem to be diligently accumulating enough data to convince the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to allow football to not only be played in February, March and April, but in its traditional form, as well.
“We really talked about being methodical about this, taking our time and collecting data,” Millbury High athletic director Josh MacCreery said. “Data about the sport itself, data from the other states that are currently playing football. What are they doing? How are they doing it?
“We’ve been researching different states and the modifications or lack thereof that they’ve put in. … Because if (about 30) other states are able to successfully play football safely, I think that bodes well for our approach.”
One that optimally would culminate with football being played with 11 players to a side and blocking and tackling allowed with modifications perhaps introduced for such things as face shields, added water breaks and limits on practice.
“We talked about trying to get it to look as close to football as we can while doing it safely,” MacCreery said. “I think that’s the important piece.”
As far as fall 2021, a proposal was put forth by Milton coach Steve Dembowski, who is the Football Committee coaches’ representative, for a 10-game regular season that would span 12 weeks followed by an eight-team, post-Thanksgiving playoff in each of the state’s eight divisions.
The current format calls for 16 teams to make the playoffs in each of eight divisions following an eight-game season. It was approved by the Tournament Management Committee on July 30 on the recommendation of representatives of the Football Committee who attended the meeting.
“There are a tremendous amount of benefits to this,” Dembowski said of the latest proposal, which is based on a format Connecticut has used since 2010. “And hopefully attendance and interest would skyrocket through these games.”
Among those benefits cited were making Thanksgiving games more relevant, playoff qualification would include all games, there would be no overlapping of the regular season and postseason, two bye weeks would be added that would increase the rest and skill development of players, and the elimination of consolation games.
However, there are some disadvantages.
The playoffs would begin on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving followed by the semifinals that Sunday, and Super Bowls being held the Friday and Saturday after that. If the format was utilized this year it would mean games on Nov. 26 and Dec. 1, 6 and 11/12.
So for starters, three games in 11 days through the semifinals, or four days less than last fall. The Sports Medicine Committee is sure to have something to say about that.
In addition, there are currently only the eight Super Bowls played once the first day of practice for winter sports commences on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Now the entire round of playoffs, 56 games in all, would occur with the winter season underway.
To that end, Dembowski proposes lengthening the winter sports preseason from 10 to 15 days, meaning the earliest competitions could be held is four days before the first Super Bowls are played.
“This is a touchy subject,” Dembowski admitted, a nod to the fact sports like basketball, hockey and indoor track have pushed back in the past about any proposal to alter their seasonal structure.
There’s also a matter of a deadline if the alternative proposal were to be implemented for the 2021 season. To that end, Shrewsbury AD Jay Costa offered an accelerated timeline that was accepted by his colleagues.
Committee representatives will go back to their respective districts, of which there are nine, and get feedback on the already passed and just proposed plans through December. A survey to all MIAA schools will be released in January and then the committee will meet to discuss and/or vole on a proposal in January with the results forwarded to the Tournament Management Committee in February.
The TMC deadline to vote on such matters is March 1.
“That should give everyone enough time to plan out what next fall would look like,” Costas said.
—Contact Rich Garven at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG.
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