WESTFIELD – Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association member schools recently voted in favor of the Tournament Management Committee’s statewide tournament proposal by a vote of 193-140, much to the dismay of some local athletic directors and school administrators.
“I am not in favor of the statewide tournament because I loved the sectional tournament,” said Westfield High School athletic coordinator Ryan Dunphy, who admitted to voting “no” at last week’s special assembly at Assabet Valley Regional High School. “It’s very meaningful to people in this area. It creates a buzz. A lot of kids getting in (to sectional tournaments) played with a lot of kids on club sports.”
Beginning this fall, MaxPreps will begin to seed schools in postseason tournaments based on a power-ranking system. The exact criteria for the MaxPreps system has not been revealed, although there are rumors of a controversial margin-of-victory factor, which may or may not be eliminated.
“I thought a ‘no’ vote was a great situation because we were going to rebalance sections anyhow (based on a prior decision), possibly merging with the Berkshires and realigning things,” Dunphy said.
The recent vote though has set in motion a historic change and unprecedented time in high school sports in the state of Massachusetts.
While the tournament seeds this fall will be determined by MaxPreps, sectional tournaments will be eliminated starting in fall 2021, replaced by the new format.
Under the new system, the top 32 teams in each division based on MaxPreps’ power rankings will earn postseason berths. Also, any team outside the top 32 with a .500 or better record will automatically qualify for each respective sport’s tournaments.
“Who really cares if the top two teams get to play in the state championship?” Dunphy said. “We’re losing a lot of history. …It’s sad that there will no longer be (Western Mass. champs) in this area.”
That was a familiar sentiment echoed by athletic directors and school administrators all across the western part of the state.
Westfield Superintendent of Schools Stefan Czaporowski voiced his disapproval of the outcome. “It’s disappointing,” he said. “(This) may reduce the opportunities for a lot of our students.”
St. Mary’s High School Principal/Athletic Director Matt Collins agreed.
Collins, who also voted “no,” said St. Mary’s, which has far fewer students than the city’s two public high schools, will be at a severe disadvantage under the new system.
Unless a private school or prep school like St. Mary’s is granted a waiver, that school would be required under the new guidelines to compete a level above what they normally play in the tournament.
“That’s difficult,” Collins said. “Most schools have a hundred students trying out for a team. We have 81 (students).…There is no athletic advantage there.”
Collins also noted that if the margin-of-victory factor remains a part of the formula which helps determine the seeding process come tournament time, that will go against what the MIAA truly stands for in creating a fair, balanced atmosphere for student-athletes.
“That component in the ranking system is essentially going to dictate if a team is going to run up scores,” Collins said. “Teams aren’t going to want to play you or they’re going to want to beat you bad.”
According to Collins, that could create a toxic atmosphere breeding unsportsman-like situations among teams.
If a small school like St. Mary’s is fortunate enough to qualify for the postseason, what happens if they draw an opponent such as Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School on the shores of Eastern Massachusetts.
“It would cost us $1,800 to travel by bus and then take a boat to Martha’s Vineyard,” Collins said. “Kids are going to miss a whole day of school because it takes so long to get there.”
No matter the odds, the Saints appear intent on once again rising to the challenge. They have had tougher circumstances, facing the closure of the school and the constant pressure of building enrollment numbers.
“Either way you have to go out there and play the best you can to make the postseason,” Collins said. “Hopefully at the end of the day you’re able to play in the tournament.”
The Westfield News also reached out to Southwick Regional High School, but that school’s athletic director, Dave Sanschagrin declined comment.