The MIAA announced in late October that it would be realigning its football divisions for the 2017-18 season. After an initial release of the proposed alignments in October, schools weighed in with their appeals and the MIAA published its new proposed realignments earlier this month.
Many schools stayed in the same proposed division as last time but there were four local schools that changed proposed divisions. The most drastic was Monty Tech, which went from Division 5 down to Division 8, temporarily appearing to win its appeal.
The other schools to shift are Oakmont Regional, Fitchburg High and Lunenburg. Lunenburg may change again by the time the process is over.
The MIAA state football committee will meet Jan. 31 to approve or reject the changes, accept additional appeals, and make further adjustments. Scheduling and other issues related to realignment will be a topic of discussion as the process progresses.
The current format has eight divisions, with 1, 1a, 2, 2a, 3, 3a, 4, and 4a. The new proposed alignments will for the most part rename those divisions to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Divisions 1 and 2 are Eastern Mass. only, exactly as Division 1 and 1a are currently Eastern Mass only. The highest division in Central Mass. will be Division 3.
The MIAA bases its divisions off school enrollment size and historic football performance. The appeals help to adjust more towards performance, and away from school size.
Monty Tech, which boasted a vocational bowl title two seasons ago, but has been a .500 team for most of its history in the Colonial league, found itself in Division 5 through the first round of the proposal, on average two or three divisions higher than its Colonial foes.
With 782 boys in grades 9-12, Monty Tech is the fifth largest school in Central Mass., and on numbers alone the MIAA lifted the Bulldogs above the typical teams it competes with. But with students involved in trades and co-ops, Monty Tech student sports participation rates are lower than other schools, because the physical demands of their jobs and conflicting work schedules, which create barriers for competing in sports.
“If we were lumped in with those guys (in Division 5) it would certainly be a tough road for sure,” Monty Tech head coach Anthony Secino said. “What they did was base the system off of numbers, they didn’t take a close look at past performance of the school. The vocational kid is a different kind of kid, and our appeal took into account that these kids leave the program after their first jobs, and get co-op jobs and things like that.”
The initial proposal had Monty Tech in the same division as Northbridge, Burncoat and Auburn, which would be a big step up in the level of play. Monty Tech officials appealed the MIAA to move to Division 7 or Division 8, where the rest of the Colonial Athletic teams are, and the MIAA granted that appeal.
“We asked for Division 7 or 8, and they agreed with our appeal,” Secino said. “All of the vocational schools had the same proposal. When I played at Oakmont in high school, we lived football, but I didn’t have to worry about going to a shop, or going to a job. The kids come to our school to learn a vocation and get an education; football is unfortunately not their first priority. They are a different kind of kid, great kids, but they have a lot more on their plate than most students.”
The newly proposed Division 8 has Monty Tech joined by Colonial rivals Nashoba Tech and Worcester Tech, as well as Gardner, Lunenburg, and St. Bernard’s.
Gardner found itself in Division 8 through the first round of the proposed divisions, moving from 3A, which would be the new Division 6. Lunenburg was initially set to be in Division 6, but the new proposal has the Blue Knights in Division 8.
The original proposal had Lunenburg paired with St. Peter-Marian, Clinton and Littleton in Division 6. With word of perennially strong teams appealing to move down from Division 5, including Holy Name, Lunenburg (214 boys) appealed with the expectation of dropping to Division 7 with comparable schools like Ayer Shirley (197 boys). The news of Division 8 for the Blue Knights comes as a surprise.
“I’m surprised,” Lunenburg Athletic Director Pete McCauliff said. “I thought we’d fit in Division 7, but I’m going to withhold judgment until I review the alignments, talk to people involved, to see if that’s where we should be and how we ended up there. The appeal was not about getting into the smallest division, it was about getting in a division that we were competitive in, and where we belong.”
The first MIAA proposal had Fitchburg High in Division 5, despite its larger enrollment, and Oakmont in Division 4, despite being the smallest school in that proposed division.
The most recent proposed alignment flip flops the two schools, with Oakmont dropping to Division 5, and Fitchburg lifting to Division 4.
North Middlesex , Groton-Dunstable and Nashoba Regional are in Division 4 alongside Fitchburg, while Leominster joins that other Mid-Wach A schools, St. John’s and Doherty in Division 3 in the new proposed alignments.
If Division 4 stands, North Middlesex will be the smallest school in that division, with just 385 boys, where most schools have over 500.