April 07, 2020
Sports Column

Football expansion should wait

Here’s one vote to wait on adding a fourth class to the Maine high school football ranks.

The football committee of the Maine Principals’ Association will meet Friday to discuss the issue, and while any final decision would not be formalized until after a vote of the MPA’s general membership next spring, the idea seemingly is being fast-tracked.

That’s because one primary reason for the proposal is to create a structure so that an extra week of preseason practices can be added within the existing fall sports season. Such a move would bring Maine in line with the national trend by providing a third week of preseason practices to help teams and players more gradually acclimatize themselves to the heat of late summer as well as the sheer physical demands of the sport.

But much of the talk since the proposal became public a month ago has suggested there aren’t yet enough varsity football programs to justify four classes, that travel requirements might be increased, and that several of the 67 schools now fielding varsity teams are not happy with their new classifications under the preliminary format.

There’s no problem here in figuring out a way to add a week of preseason practices if that’s in the best interest of those who play the game.

Perhaps that can be done without realigning to four classes right now.

One school of thought in recent years has been to wait until there are 80 varsity programs to expand to four classes. That number – a nearly 20 percent jump from the current roster of teams – is years away, but if there is popular sentiment for four classes at least the move might be better put off until there are at least 72 teams, so four 18-team classes could each be subdivided into two nine-team divisions based on geographic considerations.

And that time might not be so far off.

Div. I-A game may hurt Maine

Here’s hoping the University of Maine football team’s playoff fortunes aren’t sabotaged by its foray into the Division I-A world. The Black Bears are 4-2 heading into Saturday’s homecoming game against Hofstra, 3-0 in Atlantic 10 play.

But when it comes to qualifying for the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs, conventional wisdom suggests any team with more than three losses is hard-pressed to make the field. That leaves Maine little margin for error, in part because of its 22-0 loss at BC back on Sept. 30.

There are benefits to playing a I-A opponent, I’d say enough to justify the practice. There’s the chance for the program to test itself against the highest level of college football talent, the opportunity to play in front of huge crowds in big-time football environments, and the healthy chunk of change guaranteed the UMaine athletic program for playing a road game at a I-A venue each year.

A look at Maine’s schedule suggests several winnable games on the horizon before season-ending tests against highly ranked Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Maine, ranked 19th in I-AA, probably needs to go no worse than 4-1 the rest of the way to make the playoffs, and that would include at least beating either UMass or UNH. There are those who say if the Black Bears can’t do that, they don’t deserve to make the playoffs.

But the combination of playing a I-A foe in Boston College, as well a Division II opponent in Shaw University that essentially doesn’t count in the eyes of the playoff committee, essentially leaves the Bears in postseason mode right now.

Ernie Clark may be reached at 990-8045, 1-800-310-8600 or eclark@bangordailynews.net.

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