Proposal floated that might lead to all teams making MPSSAA playoffs this year

By Sheldon Shealer

The MPSSAA football committee was asked during an emergency session Tuesday to consider a radical proposal that would allow all teams to make the playoffs this year.

The concept centers around the current four classifications being broken into six classes, each with 30 or 31 schools, which means seven or eight teams per region and that would allow for every team to make the playoffs, according to sources with first-hand knowledge of the proposal. The idea came from the Executive Committee, and the football committee was asked to hold a special meeting to consider the plan, the source said.

The football committee was given 24 hours to respond. One source said a decision to move forward with this plan could come as early as Thursday or Friday of this week.

This “open playoff” concept was pushed forward to lessen the impact on programs that might miss games or even be forced to forfeit games due to COVID protocols, one source told the Maryland Football Foundation. He added that if approved, this format will be put into place for the 2021 football season.

The Maryland Foundation Foundation reached out to several members of the committee for feedback.

One member felt like since this was coming from the Executive Committee that the plan will be put into action unless there was considerable pushback from the football committee. “A couple [regions] said, ‘Hell, no.’ A couple said, ‘Hell, yes.’ And the rest were like, ‘We get it,’ the source said.

One source said that since the MPSSAA received a temporary waiver from the interscholastic athletic regulations in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR), the MPSSAA legally would be allowed to make this change to the playoff system this year even though the 2021 MPSSAA Football Bulletin has been published and the playoff system outlined.

The proposal moving to six classes has the following look: The current 4A and 3A classes would be sub-divided into a 4A, 4A/3A and 3A class, based on enrollment. The 2A and 1A classes would be sub-divided into a 2A, a 2A/1A and a 1A class. That way, there is not a complete reassigning of classifications for schools that might be on the borderline of 3A and 2A status. The large 4A schools would still be 4A, the smaller 4As will be grouped with larger 3As and the smaller 3As would be the new 3A. The same concept applies to the 2A and 1A programs.

Teams already have been hit by COVID as some games were not played this past weekend.

Two sources said there were concerns that teams missing games or forfeiting would negatively impact that team’s point standing, which is how teams currently qualify for the postseason. Since Maryland went to the nine-game regular season to accommodate an extra round of postseason play, eight teams in each region already make the playoffs — but regions range from nine to 13 teams, meaning some teams don’t qualify. With six classifications and 182 football-playing MPSSAA programs, this proposal ensures every team makes the playoffs as no classification would have more than 31 schools and no region would have more than eight schools.

While sources said they understand this could be a one-year fix to an immediate problem, there is concern that this format could be made permanent as the Executive Committee has brought up terms such as “equity,” meaning a desire for a system more closely aligned with other team sports where all schools qualify. “I’m afraid if we go down this road, there’s no coming back,” one source said.

There is concern that six classifications will greatly water down the state tournament and lessen the general public interest in the postseason since everyone makes it.

One source said, “72 percent of the teams already make the playoffs — do we really need the other 28 percent?”

The point is well taken as the current seeding system will remain in place, therefore this will ensure a regional quarterfinal game would likely pit a winless or one-win team against an undefeated or one-loss top seed. At least the current regular season weeds out those sub-par teams from postseason play.

Another concern was the re-assigning to teams in the new regions as counties will be split even more so than the current system. One source was concerned that the MPSSAA has sent confusing and mixed messages, such as saying, “No” to certain playoff expansion proposals from the football committee and then approaching the committee with their own playoff concept. Another source said the entire situation was getting too political as the MPSSAA is trying to expand playoffs to ensure additional playoff revenue in order to make up for lost revenue in the past 18 months while not taking into account the quality of the product.

Some sources, meanwhile, welcomed this proposal only if it was a one-year fix. One source said if a team has to cancel a game for COVID-related reasons, the contest would count as a forfeit, thus unfairly harming that team’s playoff point standing, therefore he welcomed this idea to relieve the stress that could be caused by canceling a contest.

The football committee is due to submit its feedback to the Executive Committee on Thursday.

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