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NISER IS WISER Football playoffs are here, but with a price


While most of you, myself included, are waking up this morning with a sugar-induced coma due to the copious amounts of candy you consumed the night before, three local football teams are preparing for their first sectional playoff game — ever.

Now normally I would say that the fact that football teams are finally getting a chance to compete for a state title is great, but because of the way the system is set up, that is not the case.

Let’s start with Derek Asadoorian’s Groton-Dunstable Crusaders. Groton-Dunstable overcame a costly injury to senior quarterback Quintin Forbes and still managed to finish the regular season with a record of 5-3.

On Saturday afternoon, Groton-Dunstable fell to winless Westborough on the road, 31-14, but it didn’t matter as the Crusaders had already locked up the No. 7 seed in the D-4 Central sectional. All Westborough had to do was win the game and it would be in the playoffs.

That’s the way to work the system, Rangers.

The top eight teams make it to the playoffs, and guess who was in eighth-place: Westborough. Does anyone remember the year the New England Patriots missed the AFC playoffs with an 11-5 record? Because Groton-Dunstable’s division was so weak this year, a team with one win can squeak into the playoffs.

In what world does that make sense? When you look at other divisions around the state, such as in other brackets, some teams with winning records are on the outside looking in because of their strength-of-schedule.

While there is no “perfect” system, it is quite evident that the pilot program the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) has in place for two years likely will not survive after this season.

With the current system, teams eliminated from postseason contention move into a so-called losers bracket, which strikingly resembles that of the 11-game season the playoff system nullified. But let’s fast forward a few weeks later to that holiday where the jolly gobbler is on everyone’s mind.

Thanksgiving football has been a staple in our region, in some cases, since the early 1900s or earlier. However, the MIAA has miraculously preserved the Thanksgiving Day game.

Alas, Thanksgiving football is saved.

Not so fast, my fellow gridiron groupies. A source of mine who is a coach at one of the local high schools said what’s to say that his team’s Thanksgiving Day opponent, who is a playoff contender, advances to the state semifinals the week after Thanksgiving. You might be thinking, “what’s the problem with that?” The problem is that the integrity of the Thanksgiving morning game has been sacrificed for the chance to play for a state championship. If Team A is in the finals, but it still has to play its rival, Team B, on Thanksgiving, what’s going to stop it from playing its JV players to avoid any injury to its starters?

Long gone are those days where the league title rests on the Thanksgiving Day game. It’s a crying shame, if you ask me. Sure, I think it is great that the kids get a chance to play for a state championship now, but not at the cost of sacrificing the traditional Thanksgiving morning football games.

The MIAA seriously needs to revisit its policy on when the season starts and allow the student-athletes to start their season earlier. Or how about shortening the number of teams who make it to the postseason to four or six. Fewer teams equals fewer games.

In a lot of cases, the MIAA seems to be concerned about what kind of revenue it can rake in. It’s natural, and I do not fault them for that. But when this pilot program crashes and burns, the MIAA should take a look at what other states have done to make their playoff format successful.

Like everything, there is another side to the story. What about the teams who do not qualify for the playoffs? They enter a losers bracket where they play opponents assigned to them based on a point system, which calculates numerous things including strength of schedule and out-of-division opponents.

Ayer-Shirley, like other teams, didn’t find out who they were playing until late Sunday night. Luckily for coach Billy Wright and his staff, their opponent wasn’t too far away in Nashoba Tech. So obtaining a film wasn’t too hard.

The thing that gets me is how the integrity of Thanksgiving Day games is ruined. Historic clashes between rivals like Leominster and Fitchburg are now nothing more than an exhibition. Heck, they might as well slap flags on the kids and make it no contact. What’s the point of playing?

With that being said, good luck to No. 7, North Middlesex, when it travels to Shrewsbury to face St. John’s at a date yet to be determined.

As for Groton-Dunstable, it has a tough task on the road at 8-0 Hudson, but the Hawks are also without their starting quarterback, Dan Mendes. Should be a good test for the young Crusaders. If I know Asadoorian, he will a trick-or-two up his sleeve.

As for the North Middlesex Patriots, they will have their work cut out for them with St. John’s. However, Sandy Ruggles’ Patriots have proven they can hang with Marlboro and Doherty, so what’s to say they can’t give St. John’s a tough fight?

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