Noble High teammates celebrate after the Knights beat Greely in a boys’ basketball regional quarterfinal on Feb. 17. Noble (14-4) advanced to the Class A South final this winter, a year after going 7-11 in Class AA South. Carl D. Walsh/ Staff Photographer

A new rule that was implemented before the 2023-24 high school basketball season in an effort to give struggling programs a better chance for success has spurred debate after its first winter in the books.

The rule gave teams with a winning percentage below 25% over the previous five years – four seasons, plus the pandemic-altered winter of 2020-21 – the chance to play in a smaller enrollment class while remaining eligible for the postseason. The goal was to give those programs a chance to be more competitive, thus encouraging stronger participation and turnout numbers.

In its first year, the rule had a clear impact on participating programs (teams could also opt to stay in their original class). Sixteen teams – seven boys’ programs and nine girls’ programs – made the move down, and 13 saw their records improve. Ten made the playoffs in their new class, with eight of those teams having missed the postseason in their original class the season before.

Mike Burnham, executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, said the plan is for teams who have risen back above a 25% winning percentage to return their enrollment class when classification gets revisited after the 2024-25 season. The MPA Basketball Committee will meet Tuesday, and the new rule will be one of the topic discussed.

Some coaches feel the rule served its purpose, as teams that have struggled to compete in and win games were able to contend for and earn playoff spots. The biggest improvements belonged to the Poland girls, who went from 0-18 in Class B to 12-6 in Class C; the Biddeford girls, who went from 0-18 in Class A to 11-7 in Class B; the Wiscasset boys, who improved from 1-17 in Class C to 9-9 in Class D; and the Bucksport girls, who after going 3-15 in Class B went 11-7 in Class C.

“I think the MPA nailed it with this one,” said Brunswick girls’ basketball coach Sam Farrell. “I think they made the right decision. A lot of these teams have kind of been stuck, where they haven’t been winning for a long time. They get a little bit of success, and you hope that breeds getting the younger kids in their communities involved.”


Noble boys’ Coach John Morgan, whose team improved from 7-11 in Class AA to 14-4 this winter, said his program was turning around already, but that the move helped turn a bounce-back season into a regional championship bid. The Knights advanced to the Class A South final before falling to eventual state champ Gray-New Gloucester.

“I think we were kind of trending in the direction where people were getting excited about Noble basketball,” he said, “but it’s hard for me not to say that it didn’t benefit us, playing in A this year.

“This did work for the plan that they wanted it to. They wanted some schools to get back on their feet.”


Other coaches, however, said that the high number of teams making the playoffs in their new classes was a problem, and that the move down was supposed to help programs find more competitive games, rather than give them an easier chance at a tournament berth and even a championship run.

“The way I see it, I look at teams playing down, you should be saving your program,” said Cape Elizabeth girls’ coach Chris Casterella. “To be a doormat, you’re going to lose kids, it’s not fun to lose. But I don’t think that you should necessarily be eligible for playoffs when your enrollment (is much bigger). … That’s not fair.”


Falmouth boys’ coach Dave Halligan also said he was against the rule, and that the nature of high school sports, where programs can rise and fall from the top of the standings to the bottom on a year-to-year basis, makes it hard to accurately determine which teams are in need of being moved.

Not all teams that had been down for years were facing uncompetitive seasons again. The Noble boys struggled for decades but had a stronger roster heading into this winter. The Biddeford girls entered the season 45-172 over the previous 12 years, but had two of the area’s top freshmen this winter and has a New England championship-winning group of eighth graders coming next year.

Biddeford Coach Jeannine Paradis talks to her team during a practice in early February. The Tigers went 0-18 in Class A South in 2022-23 but made the Class B South playoffs with an 11-7 record this winter. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“It’s not like pros or colleges, where things are sort of the same every year,” Halligan said. “If it’s meant to make more competitive games, that’s not the way to do it. Tiering the schedule’s the way to do it.”

York girls’ Coach Jess Stacy said her problem with the rule is that dropping down teams potentially take a playoff spot from a team belonging in that class because of enrollment.

“There has to be a better way of doing it,” she said. “You’ve got teams that are competing in their own class who are pushing really hard, the teams that are sitting right on the cusp of a tournament spot, and you have a team that’s been reclassified from A to B or B to C who’s now taking a spot away from them.”



Not all coaches who were in that position, however, felt the results were unfair. Leavitt girls’ Coach Kyle Rines, whose Hornets finished 11th in Class B South and missed out on a playoff spot that Biddeford took, said “no one put us in that position other than ourselves.”

“Overall, I think (the rule) is a good thing,” Rines said. “When you’re trying to build a program, you want success. To get more people to play, you need to be successful.”

Justin Tardif’s Biddeford boys’ basketball team was similarly denied, finishing 10th and one spot away from qualifying in A South.

“I never … thought that Noble kept us out of it,” he said. “Ultimately, it was the games that we played, and that we won or lost.”

Tardif said an open tournament, however, could resolve any complaints.

“That solves a lot of different problems,” he said. “We always have issues with scheduling, of teams not wanting to play up or down because of Heal points and all that. Open playoffs eliminates that as an issue. Whether you play eight AA schools or only one AA school, ultimately, you know you’re going to make the playoffs and you’re really fighting it out for seeding.”

Casterella said she’s in favor of teams dropping down solely to save their programs, but suggested either making teams that drop down ineligible for the postseason, or keeping them in their classes and, as Halligan proposed, re-working the schedules to make for fewer one-sided matchups.

“We just want competitive games,” she said. “If we then get kicked in the playoffs because we played a softer schedule, so be it. That’s the way it should be.”

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