NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 30, 2012

Local coaches react to MIAA football changes

By Jim Sullivan Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News

---- — The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association voted to amend the rules for football last Friday, and the changes will invert the current season schedule.

The change, which takes the current playoff system from 19 regional Super Bowl games down to only six, will go into effect at the beginning of the 2013 season and will be on a two-year trial basis. This shift in the postseason schedule is large enough, but it will be in the regular-season that it has the potential to be seismic.

“It will be what it is.” says Pentucket coach Steve Hayden. “They’ll make it the best, and maybe they can iron it out and make it better. Or maybe it won’t work. But we’re going to give it a whirl.”

Starting next year, a three-week playoff bracket will be instigated that will place teams statewide into six divisions of similar school sizes based on enrollment numbers. Following Week 7, teams will be power-seeded into sectional playoff brackets, divided into four regions (North, South, Central and West). After that, teams falling below the playoff cutoff will be seeded into another sectional pool with other non-playoff opponents. From there, the last three weeks become the road to the six Super Bowls, before playing the traditional Thanksgiving games against the usual foes.

Gone will be the two post-Thanksgiving playoff games in a week. Instead of 74 teams playing after Thanksgiving Day, now there will be 12.

“There were a lot of complaints when they tried to implement what we have now,” says Newburyport coach Ed Gaudiano, “with playing on Thanksgiving, playing on the Tuesday after and playing on Saturday. That was never a good solution. So it places a great emphasis on winning the league now.”

Triton coach Pat Sheehan represented his school at the MIAA special meeting on Friday, and voted for the proposal.

“It’s a two-year pilot,” says Sheehan. “Am I concerned about it? Of course. But currently our system is in need of a little fixing with the three (playoff) games in 10 days. A lot of the problems that our current season has seem to be remedied by the new proposal. But there are still some questions marks, and we’ll cross those bridges when we come to them.”

Not concerned about that bridge is Gaudiano. In fact, he welcomes the change.

“We were always in favor of it,” says Gaudiano. “It addresses the question that everybody had in that it creates divisions in the Super Bowls by enrollment. So (it ends) the disparity with schools with low enrollment, and it’s a two-year trial thing where they can iron out whatever problems come up.”

This new system will invert the current set-up. Instead of playing six non-league games to start the season, division play will be instigated from the word -- go.

“You have to be ready to win games that count on Week 1,” admits Gaudiano, whose current Clippers struggled in non-league play this season, going 3-3 before settling into their current 2-0 record during league play. “And I think that every coach would realize that going into a season with 15 days of practice, it will be interesting. But everybody’s in the same boat. You’re not as polished in the beginning of the season as you are in the middle of the season.”

Also sitting at 5-3 after a 3-3 non-league schedule is Hayden, who says his Sachems will roll with the punches.

“It’s something different, something new, so I guess if we don’t try it, we’ll never know how it is,” says Hayden. “The thing that could be trouble is, if you’re not in the playoffs in your league, you’re still playing kids that you know, coaches that you know. Now you won’t even know who you’re playing until the end.”

One interesting possibility is that with league play starting at the beginning of the season, Thanksgiving Day rivals may now meet twice in the season, instead of only once.

Currently in the middle of a 6-2 season is Newburyport’s Thanksgiving rival, Amesbury, whose coach Thom Connors says that he would rather focus on this year, and let the chips fall where they may after that.

“I’m at a point, give me my schedule and tell me where to go,” says Connors. “I’ll prepare my team and be ready to play. We’ll see what happens. I’m more concerned with who we play this week. I’ll worry about that a year from now.”