The Maine Principal’s Association (MPA) Ad Hoc Committee on Athletic Policy has proposed serious cuts to the 2009-10 seasons. The recommendations of the MPA will be voted upon Jan. 26.
The objectives of the proposed changes are to level the playing field, and to reduce the economic impact of sports on the school budget.
If all the items on the proposal pass, all holiday basketball tournaments will be eliminated, unless schools opt to use their two non-countable games during the middle of the season, instead of before the season.
Pre-season (non-countable) scrimmages will be limited to two. Currently, unlimited pre-season contests are permitted, according to LA athletic director KJ Anastasio.
With only two pre-season games allowed, popular and just-for-fun alumni games would probably be eliminated, for a more serious pre-season contest. The Lincoln Academy Alumni games are the primary fundraiser for the Lincoln Academy Alumni Association and funds their annual newsletter, The Lincoln Log.
Spring trips to Florida would not be allowed under the new rules. Medomak Valley and Lincoln Academy softball teams reaped the benefits of a week at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in the spring of 2008.
According to sources, by allowing just two non-countable games, richer schools, or schools with an active boosters club would not gain an unfair advantage over a poorer school, creating a more equal playing field.
“The driving force behind it is the budget. Some schools are sending three teams on one bus and are cutting sub-varsity games. Currently we are playing close teams twice, and far away teams once,” Anastasio said. “These are all proposals. They don’t have to pass every point,” Anastasio said, adding his gut feeling was that the proposals would pass.
Parents and coaches are not allowed to weigh in on the debate over the proposed rules. Lincoln Academy father Tom Mullin wrote to the MPA to voice his opinion, but was told the MPA is not accepting any public comment.
“The committee is accepting input from principals and ADs [Athletic Directors] since those are the people they represent,” a responder to Mullin said. “While I absolutely see the need to economize, [the proposal] does not address the major expense of transportation in the alignment in conferences,” Mullin said of long road trips to far away schools, while bypassing closer schools like Wiscasset, Boothbay, and Georges Valley.
MPA executive director Mike Burnham said the MPA, “has nothing to do with aligning conferences. That’s a local decision. We don’t deal with individual conferences. Maybe schools need to look outside their conference and play more geographically.”
“This entire initiative [proposal] comes from the economic state of state government. They have reduced funding, reduced state subsidies for schools and it looks like they will be reduced again next year.” The ad hoc committee has been “discussing this for over a year, ever since the state economy soured. They met an entire day and came up with the recommendations. They have asked for feedback from athletic directors, principals, and superintendents from around the state,” Burnham said.
When asked if the committee would vote on the entire proposal or if they would vote item-by-item, Burnham responded and said, “I’m not sure if they will vote bullet-by-bullet of if they will vote on the slate.”
Local booster clubs would also be affected. Medomak Valley Boosters’ second biggest fundraiser of the year is their Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament. Under the proposed rule changes, the tournament would become extinct.
“We’re going to feel it, no question. If this goes through, there will be no Holiday Classic. Pre-season games are much more important for teams,” Medomak Valley athletic director Matt Lash said.
MVHS boosters typically bring in $2500-$3000 during the tournament. Medomak will also be loosing two gate fees in the winter with the cut in number of games, a loss of $1000 to $1200.
“There will be a savings in transportation a year, but will we be saving enough to make a difference, in comparison to the loss for kids in games and competitions?” Lash asked.
Lincoln Academy Booster president Maureen Dodge said losing two home games in the fall and two in the winter could cost the boosters up to $2000 in concession revenues. The money raised goes to purchasing uniforms and supplies.
“We will more closely watch what we spend our money on. We might have to go to buying uniforms every five years instead of every four years. We buy everything for them,” Dodge said of the athletic budget, not including coaches stipends and officials. “We buy everything else,” Dodge said.
Lash said when he first looked at the MPA proposal, he “initially supported it until you look at the big picture and then you have to ask is it worth it?”
Lash said the proposal would affect only 1-2 percent of the total budget. “The non-countable games are my primary concern, especially in the spring when you schedule five or six pre-season games in the hopes of getting in one or two. The pre-season games are so important in getting your pitchers ready.”
Another part of the proposal that Lash is opposed to is the elimination on New England play. “If a kid made it that far, they need to be supported,” Lash said.
If Maine opts out of New England competition, an athlete could not compete even if a parent provided transportation to the event.
In November, Lincoln Academy sponsored a Matthew Budrow Memorial Basketball Tournament to raise funds (over $1500) for a scholarship fund in his honor. Under the new rules, the future of the tournament is up in the air, reliant on schools opting to play their two non-countable games at the tournament.
Another concern of Lash and Mullin is losing student athletes to more attractive AAU, fall leagues, undergrad leagues, and club teams.
Are the rules “going to make them more appealing to kids than high school sports?” Lash asked.
If the recommendations are adopted, sports seasons would be shortened by one to two games, depending on the sport. Post-season play would also be affected, as only 50 percent of teams would qualify for the tournament, as opposed to the current two-thirds of the teams.
The following MPA proposals were taken directly from a bulletin provided athletic directors and principals:
Maximum Countable Competitions
Decrease the maximum number of countable competitions policy by two if the present number is 12 or more, and by one if the present number is 10 or fewer. Proposed maximums are followed in parenthesis by present numbers.
Fall: Cross Country 8 (9), Field Hockey 12 (14), Football 8 (9), Golf 9 (10), Soccer 12 (14), Volleyball 12 (14)
Winter: Basketball 16 (18), Ice Hockey 16 (18), Skiing 10 (12), Track (indoor) 7 (8), Wrestling 15 (18) (2 pre-season, 13 regular)
Spring: Baseball 14 (16), Softball 14 (16), Lacrosse 10 (12), Tennis 10 (12), Track (outdoor) 7 (8)
Exception: In Heal point sports where there are preliminary rounds, any qualifying team not playing in the preliminary round may play one additional scrimmage, exhibition, or conference championship game occurring between the last countable game and the round of games following the preliminary round.
Qualifying for Post Season Play
In all Heal point sports, 50 percent of the teams will qualify for post-season play. (Odd number of teams will be rounded up. Example: 17 teams, 9 qualify.)
The MPA Basketball Committee is urged to consider moving preliminary games to the tournament sites (Bangor, Augusta, and Portland).
The committee encourages the MPA, leagues, conferences, coaches associations, etc., to review policies regarding travel related issues, such as coaches meetings, all-star selections, all-star dinners, etc., to ensure the best possible use of school funds. The committee further urges non-school athletic entities to respond in a financially responsible manner as well.
Finally, the committee recognizes that the current economic situation may lead to additional emphasis on fundraising and booster club involvement. We strongly urge schools and school districts to retain strong institutional controls over the fundraising, accounting process, and approval of expenditures of funds.