AUGUSTA — Significant changes appear coming to Maine high school football, and they’d be coming quickly.

The Maine Principals’ Association football committee on Tuesday took another step toward bringing eight-man football to the state, creating a divisional alignment that would see traditional 11-man football return to three classes.

The latest proposal includes eliminating the Class E development division and replacing Class D with two eight-man divisions; one for schools with 350 or more students and the other for ones with fewer than 350.

“I think we’re taking the right step,” said committee chair Brendan Scully, athletic director at Massabesic High School.

Added committee member Fred Lower, athletic director at Hampden Academy: “Now people can look at it and make a decision on what fits them.”

Lower said he expects the proposal put forth Tuesday to change again, as some schools slotted in 8-man elect to play 11-man, or some schools in 11-man reasses over the next two weeks and choose 8-man.

Eight-man football is seen as an alternative for programs struggling to attract enough players to field an 11-man team. Amid growing safety concerns, participation is down in Maine. According to annual surveys from the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation in football decreased 16.9 percent in the state from 2008-2017.

The MPA football committee surveyed schools across the state after its November meeting to gauge interest.

Boothbay, Ellsworth, Old Orchard Beach and Yarmouth enthusiastically embraced the eight-man football format. Others were more cautious in their endorsement. Belfast and Freeport, for example, said they would consider playing eight-man depending on opponents. Houlton and Presque Isle, which has fielded an eight-man club team, expressed interest but cited travel as a possible roadblock.

In all, 20 schools expressed some level of interest in playing eight-man football.

On Tuesday, the committee placed each of those programs in an eight-man division. Schools have until Jan. 25 to inform the MPA if they’ll play eight-man football or move forward in traditional 11-man.

The committee will next meet Jan. 31 to finalize its classification proposal, which will then go to a classification committee on Feb. 11. A final vote by the entire MPA membership will take place in April.

At least one program aligned in eight-man is planning on sticking with 11.

“We plan on playing 11-man football next fall,” Maranacook coach Walter Polky said. “Hopefully, we get a good schedule and we’re able to compete in Class C. It would be a big step from where we were two years ago.”

Maranacook spent the last two seasons playing in the Class E developmental league. Polky said he and Maranacook athletic director Brant Remmington have a meeting planned Wednesday to discuss the 2019 football season. Polky said he expects to have close to 30 players next fall.

“We’re trying to build a program here and it’s going to take more than two years,” Polky said. “It takes time. It takes experience and playing.”

Under the new proposal, Class A would include schools with enrollments of 760 or more students. Class B would include schools with 505 to 759 students, and Class C would be enrollments of 504 and fewer.

Maine high school football expanded from three classes to four in 2013. In 2017, a fifth developmental class was added.

Going back to three classes for 11-man football would mean three of 2018’s state champs would be on the move. Marshwood would jump from Class B to Class A. Defending Class C state champ Nokomis would jump to Class B. With the dissolution of Class D, Wells would play in Class C.

“We’ll play where they tell us to play,” said Nokomis coach Jake Rogers, whose Warriors edged Fryeburg 13-12 in the Class C title game last November. “I felt the league we played in (the Big 11 Conference), any of the top four (MCI, Hermon, Winslow, and Nokomis) could’ve competed in Class B last season.”

Skowhegan won the Pine Tree Conference Class B division in 2017 and was the top seed in the Class B North playoffs last fall. Under this proposal, Skowhegan would join Marshwood, Noble, Gorham, Hampden and Biddeford as programs moving up from B to Class A.

“It’s kind of a surprise. It’s not something we asked for,” Skowhegan coach Ryan Libby said. “I’m not super-encouraged by it.”

Libby said since the institution of four classes in 2013, Skowhegan has enjoyed rekindling old Pine Tree Conference rivalries, including those with Lawrence, Mt. Blue and Cony. While Skowhegan has a history of playing some of the schools it would join in Class A — Lewiston, Bangor, Edward Little and Oxford Hills — in the PTC prior to 2013, Libby said he hopes cross-class scheduling would remain so Skowhegan could continue playing some of its current rivals.

“Over the last couple of years, I think we could compete athletically with Class A North teams,” Libby said. “I like playing our schedule. It would be a little bit of a disappointment to not play these teams.”

No matter what happens, Libby said his team will be ready in the fall.

“Ultimately, it comes down to playing the game on Friday night,” Libby said, “and you play who they tell you to play.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

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