For most schools in the area, football begins today. And this year, the sport will be played under new tournament alignments that’ll result in a few changes — some good, some not-so-good — for a few of our teams.
There are now eight divisions in Massachusetts, similar to last year. That’s two more divisions than there are maximum slots at Gillette Stadium for state championship games. Similar to 2016, two schools will have to find alternate locations. This resulted in a bonanza for Lynn, as Manning Field got to host the Division 1 championship game between Xaverian and Everett.
There’s no word yet on whether Lynn will be in the picture for this year’s games.
There two area schools this year in Division 1 North to follow: St. John’s Prep and Malden. While The Prep is in the Catholic Conference — arguably the toughest football league in Massachusetts — Malden, as well as Medford and Somerville, has been absorbed into the Northeastern Conference (more on that later).
Everett, the other remnant of the Greater Boston League, will play an independent schedule. In fact, the Crimson Tide will be the team at St. John’s Prep on Sept. 23 when the Eagles christen their new stadium, and name it after former coach Fred Glatz.
Two local teams have been placed in Division 2: Peabody and Medford, both in the Northeastern Conference.
Division 3 is loaded with area schools. Included are English, Classical, Beverly, Malden Catholic and Danvers. In Division 4 are Revere, Marblehead and Gloucester.
Right off the bat, this is kind of a shame, since in the last few years Marblehead and danvers had been divisional, as well as NEC, rivals.
Swampscott, Saugus and Lynnfield have been placed in Division 5; and Salem, Winthrop and Bishop Fenwick are in 6.
St. Mary’s and Mystic Valley are in Division 7, which begs the question of why the Crusaders and Spartans, always fierce rivals, are split up for the playoffs. It makes no sense at all.
Finally, in Division 8, we have Lynn Tech and KIPP Academy, which will field its first football team this season.
If you’ve paid any attention at all, it shouldn’t come as a shock that I couldn’t oppose this system more. And it seems that every time the MIAA messes with it, it just gets worse.
We have 22 teams (with the inclusion of Malden, Medford, Malden Catholic and Mystic Valley and KIPP) that we follow. They are now divided among eight conferences.
What this pretty much eliminates is buzz. Schools that advance in these divisional playoffs can generate their own buzz within their domains, but the odds of a late-season matchup between Gloucester and Beverly, for example; or Salem and Peabody, are pretty remote. The celebrated Swampscott-Salem game of 1994 that Sean Stellato wrote about in his book “No Backing Down” couldn’t happen in this system. They’re in different divisions.
What the MIAA has to realize, and what it’s always had to realize, is that all systems have flaws when you’re trying to keep everyone happy. There is no perfect formula. No matter what you do, people are going to be the outside looking in.
Thankfully, it’s sports and not anything that would carry a lasting impact for the rest of anyone’s life. But still, there are times when I wish the football landscape would go back to the way it was in 1979, when I started covering it here.
Here is a breakdown of the triple-tiered Northeastern Conference. In Division 1 we have Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Malden and Peabody; in D2, it’s Gloucester, Classical, Medford, Revere and Somerville. And in D3, it’s English, Salem, Saugus, Swampscott and Winthrop.
As we mentioned earlier, Everett is on its own.
The only observation in this format is why, in the name of all that is right and holy, are Classical and English split? Who decides these things? These divisions won’t affect Thanksgiving rivalries, but on the other hand, now that game won’t even be for a league championship.
The eyes of Texas will be upon high school football teams everywhere this season. Too much has transpired between the time we put the equipment away and today. Who could possible dispute — at this point — the reports on the pervasiveness and long-term effects of head injuries suffered in sports, especially football.
It goes without saying that trainers everywhere are going to be extra careful in making sure protocols are carried out when these injuries occur. All I can say is that I hope people whose natural tendency is to moan and groan that “they’re taking all the toughness out of football” just shut up and go away if that’s going to be their reaction if the star player is taken off the field, put through the protocol, and refused re-entry. They’re not going to be around 30 or 40 years from now when the same kid is starting to exhibit CTE symptoms.