With its  approval of a new four-class high school football season, the Maine Principals’ Association changed the face of football in the state in one vote.

With that same vote, the MPA gave newly-aligned conferences the go-ahead to change the face even more.

Conferences around the state have been anticipating that the four-class format would pass, which it did without discussion at the MPA’s annual spring conference on Thursday. So they have already drafted, and in some cases, approved schedules and playoff formats for the upcoming season.

Schools in Class A and B East and C West will vie for six playoff spots, while those in D West will have eight of 10 teams make the postseason.

Classes A and B will play eight-game, regular-season schedules with each team playing a crossover game against a team from the other region.

Class A East, which melds Pine Tree Conference schools Bangor, Lewiston, Edward Little and Oxford Hills, with Portland area schools Cheverus, Deering, Portland and Windham, wanted to address the postseason first and find a compromise between the four-team playoff of the Pine Tree Conference and the eight-team playoff of the SMAA, according to Lewiston athletic director Jason Fuller.

“Let’s take care of the bigger issue — how many teams are going to make the playoffs and how are we going to determine that,” Fuller said. “Once we all agreed upon what was the best thing for football, then we could work on the regular season schedule.”

Crossover games were determined more randomly, though with some traditional rivalries, such as Portland-South Portland and Windham-Bonny Eagle, maintained. League officials are still trying to work the kinks out of the preseason and junior varsity schedules, Fuller said, and once those are settled, the schedule should be ready for final league approval.

Lewiston coach Bill County, who was the Blue Devils’ coach when they were a part of the SMAA over a decade ago, said the six-team playoff format was a reasonable compromise.

“I think it’s the best proposal,” he said. “When you have four… I’ve been on that bubble before. An injury here or there knocks you out of the playoffs. Having eight when there are only eight or nine teams in the conference is watering it down a little. The bye is going to be interesting. I don’t know how that is going to affect teams. It has advantages and disadvantages.”

Eastern B

Class B East also plans to follow the eight-game, six-team-playoff blueprint. With defending Class B champion Mt. Blue, two-time Eastern A champion Lawrence and fellow former Class A schools Brunswick Skowhegan, Messalonskee and Cony, many have predicted it will be the toughest region in the state.

“I love it. We’ve told our kids it’s going to be the Leavitt game every week,” said Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin, referring to the Cougars’ biggest rival the last two years (which is moving to Class C). “The last two years, we started the season knowing we were going to make the playoffs. It wasn’t even a question in your mind. Now, there’s probably going to be at least one decent team that won’t make it. With four, you’d have a couple of decent teams that weren’t going to make it. Six is probably good.”

To avoid each team having a bye during the regular season, Class B schedules will also include one crossover game each. That also means that each team will not face one of the teams in its own conference each year.

Parlin and County were split on how much of a factor random crossover games could be in the Crabtree standings, although both agreed there weren’t any more viable alternatives.

“There was some talk about a power ranking, but in football, how can anyone say right now ‘Well these are the top four teams?'” Parlin said. “But that may be the determining factor. With Crabtree points, you don’t want to play a team that’s potentially 0-8.”

“Whenever you’re running a points system, you always hope that you don’t get cheated out of the points you need to contend,” County said. “We’ve had to cross over before and things seem to settle out. I think you’re going to find the best six are going to make it (to the playoffs).”

Western C

With 10 teams in each region, Class C and Class D had the option of eight- or nine-game schedules. The Western C schedule, which includes Gray-New Gloucester, Leavitt, Mountain. Valley, Poland and Spruce Mountain, is eight weeks, with the ninth team on each team’s slate relegated to the preseason. Like A and B, the top six make the playoffs and the top two get a bye.

While Poland remains in Western C, it is the second time in three years its schedule will change dramatically. It was in Western Class B from their first year in varsity in 2004 until 2010, when the MPA made minor adjustments to the enrollment figures for each class and dropped the Knights to Class C.

“Clearly there are some differences when you’re talking about enrollment. But I think the economic resources are probably more of a reality in many ways than what you have for numbers,” Poland coach Ted Tibbetts said. “Philosophically, maybe I’m putting my head in the sand, but I just keep telling my kids it doesn’t matter where we are. We’ve just got to worry about taking care of ourselves and playing at that level.”

While realignment will kill some rivalries (or at least force them to play out in the preseason), it will renew some others and even create a few. Leavitt and Mountain Valley were Campbell Conference rivals before the MPA shifted Leavitt to the East. The Hornets will also have annual encounters with their neighbors directly to the north, Spruce Mountain.

“It’s going to be great for the Turner area and for our area,” Spruce Mountain coach Walter Polky said.

Western D

Maine last had four football classes in 1986. Ironically, the “new” Class D is perhaps the most familiar to football fans since it essentially consists of the former Class C West and East.

The old Western C teams forming the new D West, which include Dirigo, Lisbon, Oak Hill, Telstar and Winthrop/Monmouth, are also planning to keep their old format, with an eight-game regular season leading into an eight-team playoff.

Like Western B, the setup requires one team be relegated to the preseason on each team’s schedule. For example, under the current schedule, Dirigo would play Boothbay in preseason but not in the regular season.

“I think this is pretty fair,” Dirigo coach Dave Crutchfield said. “I kind of wish they didn’t call it ‘Class D’ because everyone thinks of the old Class D and thinks we’re just developmental, but I don’t have any real stigmas to it. We basically play everybody that we would anyway.”

Winthrop/Monmouth coach Joel Stoneton said keeping the eight-team playoff was important to the league’s coaches.

“We’re excited for it,” Stoneton said. “A lot of people will be able to make it into the playoffs and the kids will get a chance to feel that playoff atmosphere.”

The championship round of the playoffs is in the MPA’s hands. The football committee has to decide whether to continue to hold all the games on one “Super Saturday” at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium, break the four games up over two days or more than one host site.

Regardless of how that turns out, restructuring high school football statewide was the ultimate goal, and coaches and administrators around the state were virtually unanimous that the time has come.

“Sometimes change takes a while and people need time to process that change,” Fuller said. “Hats off to the (MPA football) committee for the work they did because they obviously took everybody’s input. They made changes where they felt it was necessary to make changes, and I think that helped alleviate some of the fears that are out there in the state.”


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