A tentative schedule for the 2022 11-player high school football season that might include some interstate competition was presented to the Maine Principals’ Association’s football committee Tuesday.
The proposal represents two months’ of work spearheaded by a scheduling committee of athletic administrators representing each of the state’s football conferences and included significant input from high school coaches — including rankings of teams within each division — to help develop tiered varsity schedules that match teams of similar strength as much as possible.
“At the onset, we knew we had to get 11-man football schools in the state of Maine a full schedule, which we’ve done,” said Hampden Academy athletic administrator Fred Lower, chair of the MPA football committee and also part of the scheduling panel.
The proposal includes the possibility of teams in Maine’s large-school Class A playing countable games against teams of similar size from New Hampshire to fill bye weeks in their regular-season schedules.
While preseason games and other exhibition contests matching teams from Maine and New Hampshire are not uncommon in a variety of sports, this would mark the first time the games may count toward postseason qualification, should the idea gain approval from the MPA’s interscholastic management committee and ultimately the organization’s full membership.
“The border schools for years have scrimmaged against New Hampshire schools, and some have actually gone down and scrimmaged against Massachusetts schools,” MPA interscholastic executive director Mike Burnham said. “Other states have allowed cross-state games to count in their final standings so I don’t think it’s unique, but it’s certainly unique to us to allow those to count toward the standings.”
The eight-person scheduling committee comprises two athletic administrators from each of the state’s four 11-player football classes.
“The objective of the committee was to try to create competitive contests for everybody in the state,” said Lewiston High School athletic administrator and scheduling committee member Jason Fuller. “Obviously last year we had some pretty lopsided games. We tried to make it more competitive.”
Fuller said traditional rivalries and travel considerations were factors considered along with program strength during the schedule-building process.
Coaches of 11-player football programs were asked to provide the panel with 13 preferred opponents that their teams would play, five from within their division and eight from different classification levels for possible crossover games.
Coaches also were asked to rank the teams within their division from strongest to weakest.
“They’re the ones that know their conference and their opponents year in and year out, the nuances, who’s coming back and coaching changes and all the different dynamics that go on in communities,” Lower said. “We just value their input.”
That information led to a conference schedule of five to six games for each team depending on the number of teams in its division.
The rest of the eight-game regular-season schedules were determined as much as possible by preferred picks.
“If both schools in a potential matchup asked for a game, we tried to make sure it was added to the schedule,” Fuller said. “Once we did that we had a majority of the games, then we had to fill in the empty spots.”
A further look at preferred picks followed, and after that if there still remained open dates the scheduling committee made selections it thought presented competitive matchups with travel and rivalries also being considered.
At that point Class A still had an open week because it plays its regular season over nine weeks, but the schools in that division — Bangor, Lewiston, Edward Little of Auburn, Oxford Hills of South Paris, Sanford, Thornton Academy of Saco and Portland entries Deering and Portland — sought to fill that extra week with another game instead of a bye.
Two members of the scheduling committee, athletic administrators Gary Stevens of Thornton Academy and Rich Buzzell of Marshwood High School of South Berwick, suggested looking to New Hampshire to fill the bye week because the largest-school division in the Granite State faces a similar scheduling dilemma involving byes.
“It grew from there,” Lower said. “It looks like it could be something that could work and would make it so Class A, which ultimately wanted to play a nine-game season, wouldn’t have to take a bye.
“That’s still a work in progress and has to be approved.”
A similar tiered system likely would be used to schedule the cross-state games if the idea gains approval. Scheduling committee member Jim Stoneton, athletic administrator at Winthrop High School, believes school officials in both states support the concept.
“There already had been conversations from New Hampshire about exhibition games,” he said. “I don’t think this is a hard sell. I don’t think it’s a sell, to be honest with you. They had some byes that they were looking to fill with some exhibition games and we said, ‘So do we.’ and it was organic from there.”
Football-playing schools around the state still need to review and provide feedback about the proposed schedules, and additional work involving scheduling preseason controlled scrimmages and exhibition games and completing Maine’s eight-player football schedule remains.
But Tuesday’s meeting was marked by optimism within the football committee for the latest work done in an effort to address the competitive issues that have plagued the sport in recent years.
“I feel like every fabric of what we look for in a schedule was taken into consideration by having the flexibility to go statewide, by having the flexibility to go across regions and across conferences to create great football games for the state of Maine,” said John Bapst of Bangor athletic administrator Dan O’Connell, coaches’ liaison to the MPA football committee and a member of the scheduling panel.
“We talked in that committee about things from Dover-Foxcroft to Marshwood and everywhere in between, literally and specifically. It was very much about including everyone in this effort.”