In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t watch a single moment of the Maine high school football state championships, as for the first time since my leaving that fair, snow-banked state, there was no free option to do so.

That being said, it’s apparent from the extensive social media attention in my circle that: a) Three of the four games Saturday were atrocious; and b) Many presumed stakeholders demand satisfaction.

“Maine high school sports,” reads the loose paraphrase, the distinction implying football isn’t the only problem child, “need a major overhaul.”

OK, let’s concede the point and say you’re right. How? What equitably can be done to address the competitive balance among the cream of the crop in a sport struggling to cope with socioeconomic factors and health-and-welfare perceptions?

The most common solution is an indefinite matrix that would group teams according to some barometer of their perceived strength over the past two to five years on alternate Tuesdays after the third full moon, or something like that.

All the good programs should be playing the good ones, it is reasoned, and the bad ones can fight it out among themselves, too. Now, if that isn’t a perfect picture of our insta-sized, fairness-obsessed society, I’m not sure what is.

Basically, as I hear it, these people want to punish the likes of Marshwood, Wells, maybe Leavitt, for the crime of being consistently very good against schools their own size.

We see teams serving up a 50-burger in the state final, winning by a running clock, and assume the whole system needs fixing. We also pretend, which is easy to do in a world that’s transfixed upon the now with almost zero historical perspective, that routs in the state football championships are a new thing.

They’re not. The difference is that a blowout two or three decades ago was 18-0 or 27-7, not 49-0 or 55-21. High school football was a grind-it-out enterprise. Offense has evolved at all gridiron levels in recent years. That goes for the run-pass option and the Wing-T alike, and defenses have yet to catch up.

Our perception is that today’s games get out of hand more quickly. Whether or not they’re less competitive in real-world terms is highly debatable.

It is clear that the switch to four sanctioned classes from three has not helped the competitive balance. If anything, it has only underscored the gap between the haves and have-nots, fostering more frustration and bigger regular-season blowouts.

That, in turn, has created the apparent need for a fifth class, which is an absurd number for a state with roughly 80 football programs. Where I live, there are six classes for approximately 200 teams, and even that probably waters down the meaning of a state championship.

The bottom line is that whether you have three, four, or a dozen classes, the schools with the largest male student enrollment ultimately will have an advantage. No offense to Class C finalists Nokomis and Fryeburg, but part of the reason their moribund programs finally took off is that they stopped getting pummeled by Brunswick and Kennebunk at the business end of Class B. It’s the same thing that happened for Oak Hill (a Class D three-peat earlier this decade) when the Raiders no longer had to deal with Winslow and Leavitt on the regular.

One valid suggestion is eliminating the distinction between east and west, thereby increasing the likelihood of the two best teams making it to the final. But that only would have fixed the Class B game this year. Thornton’s demolition of Scarborough and Wells’ walk-through in the Campbell Conference suggest it would have done nothing for A and D.

Plus, there’s something to be said for being the best in your region. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost the idea that Portland, Brunswick and Foxcroft are champions, too. Not to mention that eliminating geographical separation means teams and fans would have to travel farther for playoff games, and heaven knows nobody’s lining up to volunteer for that.

We’re all waiting for the much-maligned Maine Principals’ Association to do something. It’s just like real life, where we condemn politicians but then expect them to bail us out. And like life, football’s solutions need to be self-focused.

Thornton, Marshwood and Wells are good at football because they have continuity in the coach’s office. Those coaches are able to buck the trends of fear-mongering and the need for instant gratification that have stopped the growth of this great game. The decades-deep tradition of those programs doesn’t hurt, either. That isn’t built by gridiron gerrymandering.

Tired of state title game routs? Remind the kids in your community that they are statistically safer playing football than they are riding a school bus to a speech and debate competition. And convince them that frequenting the weight room and being part of something bigger than themselves now, even if they have to wait until their junior or senior year to see the field, will improve their quality of life later.

It’s science, but it isn’t rocket science, and I don’t need to dissect every nanosecond of game film to recognize it as truth.

Kalle Oakes covered the football state championships for the Sun Journal from 1989 through 2015. He is now beat writer for the Class 6A regional champion Scott County Cardinals as sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.


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