Maine high school football’s return to four classifications is less than a month old. The rush to judgment is staggering.

It’s the planet we’re on now. Peyton Manning gets fitted for a second Super Bowl ring after carving up the mighty Raiders secondary. And on the opposite end of the overreaction spectrum, after a smattering of 60-point blowouts, some fans can’t disparage the Maine Principals’ Association quickly enough.

Let’s be clear: Four is precisely the right number of classes for sorting out 76 football programs. Three wasn’t enough. Five would be watered-down.

The real problem demonstrated by blowouts and running-the-score conundrums is not the volume of divisions but how schools are assigned to those categories. Yes, that falls upon the MPA, but to fix it would trigger more headaches than any of the work that brought us to this point.

Football is an emotional, physical game. Numbers and tradition matter more than in any other sport, although hockey and lacrosse share many of the same issues. What isn’t easily understood by many is that “numbers,” in football, doesn’t mean your enrollment. It generally indicates male students willing to make the necessary commitment and sacrifice to play football for four years.

You might have figured out that those two numbers aren’t directly proportional.

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With no intent to embarrass any program, for the purposes of this honest discussion, let’s look at Leavitt and Gray-New Gloucester. The two schools faced off in a Western Class C game, Leavitt’s homecoming, this past Saturday night.

Leavitt has won three state championships and played in five finals since 1995. The Hornets have lost one regular-season game the past five years. It wouldn’t matter if you put them in Class C, or A or B or D or X to the negative-fifth power. They would be one of the best teams in the state.

Gray-New Gloucester has fielded a varsity program for less than a decade. When Jim Hersom — who previously guided Livermore Falls and Edward Little to regional championships — took over prior to the 2012 campaign, he was the fourth different coach in five years. The Patriots’ seniors, and frankly there aren’t many of them, have gone 0-8, 1-7 and 1-7 in their career.

There is no earthly reason for Leavitt and Gray-New Gloucester to meet on the gridiron, now or in the foreseeable future. It’s of zero benefit to either team. But because they’re schools of 500-ish students in close proximity, they do.

It’s worth noting that the three state champions in 2011 — the next-to-last year of the old system — were Cheverus, Wells and Yarmouth. All between 400 and 550 students. Not a metropolitan public school among them.

Raw numbers don’t factor in community pride, recent strength of a program, socioeconomic makeup of the towns that feed a school district or any of the other intangible factors that may cause an uptick or a downturn in football fortunes.

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I’ve heard alternative solutions. Some of them are silly. A school can’t simply choose where it should play and be eligible to win a state championship. Talk about giving the inmates the passcode to the building.

Another state uses a school’s male student population and its record over a five-year sample to figure out where it belongs in the matrix. If you think the Heal Points are complicated …

Individual schools must take responsibility for their own competitive balance. I covered football in the mid-1990s when Bonny Eagle was a new program and Brunswick struggled to get first downs. The Scots petitioned down to play in Class C, then B, while getting off the ground. The Dragons requested a drop to B, and even that was a stretch at the time.

No, neither was eligible for the playoffs, but they weren’t going there in Class A at that time, anyway. Was it the right move? You tell me. Each went to Class A state title games in the double-zero decades, with Bonny Eagle winning three. Both are consistently top-10 programs in Maine, regardless of class.

Nothing prevented teams in 2013 from making the same pride-gulping choice. Better yet, get together and form a developmental league. Pick on nearby schools with your own recent background in the game. Grow it the right way.

The blowouts don’t reflect a failed system. They’re the unintended consequence of growth. And they won’t correct themselves.

Kalle Oakes is staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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