AUGUSTA — The Maine Principals’ Association’s Football Committee approved a plan Thursday to create a fifth class for schools struggling to play varsity football.

The new Class E would have six members for the 2017 season: Camden Hills, Maranacook, Sacopee Valley, Boothbay, Telstar and Old Orchard Beach.

Among those schools, only Maranacook and OOB fielded varsity teams last fall. The others dropped varsity football over the past five years after struggling to remain competitive — often because of small rosters.

Unlike other classes, Class E schools would not be determined by enrollment — and the six teams would not vie for a state championship.

The full MPA membership will vote April 27 on the proposal.

Football committee chair Ed Hatch, assistant principal and athletic director at Bucksport, said the committee’s job is to do what’s best for Maine high school football, not to be concerned with title opportunities. Giving struggling programs — particularly those who haven’t played varsity football in a few seasons — a chance to rebuild is more important than crowning a champion, he said.

“Either we’re trying to help football or we’re trying to find a way to give out more Gold Balls,” Hatch said. “These are schools (Camden Hills, Sacopee Valley, Boothbay and Telstar) that chose not to play varsity football.”

Classification committee chair Bunky Dow, of Mt. Desert Island High, told the football committee that years ago, when MDI played down a class, the last thing it was concerned with was the chance to play for a championship.

“When we dropped down, it was to save our program,” said Dow, who saw MDI win Class C North last fall. “The last thing on our mind was playoffs. Each school needs to take it upon itself to do that.”

Some of the changes from the previous two-year cycle include defending Class D state champion Maine Central Institute moving up to what is now Class C North. Winslow, with an enrollment of 446 students, would slide into the new Class D. However, according to a survey each football school was asked to complete following the season, Winslow will petition to stay in Class B North. Pine Tree Conference members Nokomis and Gardiner will drop to Class B North. Madison/Carrabec would leave Class C North and rejoin Class D South.

Schools have until Feb. 13 — when the classification committee will look at the proposal — to request changes. The football committee is scheduled to meet again Feb. 16 to finalize the plan before it goes to the full membership vote.

On Thursday, much of the football committee’s debate centered around whether the new fifth class for development should hold a state championship, like the other four classes. The new class will feature schools with varying enrollments — Camden on the high end with 667 students to Telstar with an enrollment of 212.

With enrollment the sole factor in determining class, Mike Burnham — assistant executive director for the MPA — told the committee if the fifth class were to have a state championship, the larger schools, like Camden, would still be considered playing down a class and would therefore be ineligible for the postseason.

“If we look at non-enrollment classes, it will open a Pandora’s Box in other sports,” said committee member Mark Babin, athletic director at Nokomis Regional High School. “What would be the incentive to develop and come back to their class of origin?”

Dan O’Connell, head coach at John Bapst and liaison from the coaches to the committee, said 40 of the state’s 78 coaches met Wednesday night. The coaches support a five-class system, O’Connell said, but had concerns. Calling Class E a developmental league could cause some school districts to cut funding to football programs in the division, O’Connell said. He added that without an opportunity to play for a title coaches would not want their team in the division.

O’Connell presented a five-class proposal crafted by coaches. While the committee acknowledged the work coaches put into the proposal, it said it was too late to give it much consideration.

Games against teams in Class E will count for teams in other divisions. The alignment proposal leaves some divisions with an odd number of teams, meaning leagues will have to get creative to fill eight-game schedules and avoid bye weeks.

Burnham said each league should be open to playing games across regions and even classes. The Crabtree point system, which accounts for a team’s record and the combined record of all opponents, would determine playoff teams. The Heal points, used to determine playoff seeding in other high school sports, awards points that takes into account each team’s class.

“Every league is going to have to be willing to sit down at the table and look at their schedules,” Burnham said.

Other changes will be coming as the MPA begins a new two-year classification cycle by enrollment starting in the 2017-18 school year. Wells, which won the Class C state title last season while petitioning up, is not expected to petition up again and will play in Class D South in 2017.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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