After months of discussion and hours of meetings, the MIAA's football and boys hockey committees' divisional alignment proposals are going back to the drawing board.
Monday afternoon the MIAA's Tournament Management Committee rejected the two sports committees' alignment proposals, with opponents arguing that there was too much subjectivity involved in their creation and that they strayed too far from the TMC's guidelines, which aims to bring a consistent approach across all sports statewide.
"It was very clear in the document that [subjectivity] can't be a part of this," said former St. John's Prep athletic director and TMC Chair Jim O'Leary during the football discussions, a sentiment that was brought up repeatedly throughout the three-hour meeting.
The football alignments were defeated 11-5-1 and the boys hockey alignments were defeated 9-6-1. A pair of joint sub-committees of the TMC and the Football and Boys Hockey Committees will now be formed to come up with new alignments to take effect starting in the fall of 2021.
While the future alignments remain unresolved, other issues were addressed during Monday's meeting. Among those:
- Football will stick with eight divisions (approved 11-5-1)
- Football will utilize an eight-week regular season with 16-team postseason brackets (approved 17-0)
- Girls hockey will remain at two divisions, and its divisional alignment proposal has been accepted (approved 15-0-1)
- Boys hockey will shift to four statewide divisions, replacing the current setup that includes three statewide divisions and a fourth Division 3A for small schools in the central and west regions (approved 15-0-1)
The TMC's rejection of football and boys hockey's alignment proposals highlights the difficulty of creating fair divisional alignments in sports where the usual objective measures often don't apply.
According to the TMC's criteria, divisions are to be based on school enrollment, with certain factors taken into account that might move a school up or down. Private and co-op schools will be moved up one division from their enrollment placement, vocational schools will be moved two divisions down, and co-op schools will only use enrollment figures of the largest school in the co-op.
Once a given sport's alignment is approved, there will also be an appeals process where a school could potentially move up or down if they believe they have been placed in the wrong division. That process will unfold over this coming winter.
Where the TMC's process worked smoothly for sports like basketball and soccer, football and boys hockey are unique in that school enrollment often isn't an accurate reflection of a program's ability to compete.
The Football Committee, for instance, argued that many larger schools with smaller participation rates aren't able to safely compete against similar sized schools. Vocational and co-op programs often weren't placed in suitable divisions either based on TMC factors alone.
That's often true for boys hockey as well, but more importantly, many of the state's most dominant programs come from smaller schools that would be placed in one of the lower divisions.
As part of their divisional alignment creation process, the Football and Boys Hockey Committees tried to take these unique factors into account, and the Boys Hockey Committee in particular sent out a survey to every athletic director in the state whose school sponsors boys hockey asking for their feedback.
The resulting alignments largely reflected the actual competitive landscape of their sports, but in certain cases schools were moved up or down for subjective reasons that weren't necessarily consistent across the board. The TMC expressed uneasiness with this, also noting that any request to move up to a higher division would automatically be granted, and the appeals process is intended to provide an avenue for a school that believes it's been placed too high to ask to move down.
With the alignments defeated, the newly formed joint sub-committees will attempt to work through those issues over the next month or so.