Early look at the next MIAA tournament realignment

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

It is still in the embryonic stage, but after talking to St. John's Prep athletic director Jim O'Leary, we have some idea as to what the next MIAA tournament alignment will look like.

Two things we know for sure: one, there will be a statewide bracket of 16 teams for each division; and two, the seeding will be done by the Maxpreps algorithm.

These are going to be true for every sport, but O'Leary helped explain what it would mean for football.

"The number of the teams you have that play the sport determines the number of divisions," O'Leary said. "So, football, for example, would probably be five just to start out. It may go to six, but five works better. So then, what we do is go statewide. There's no North, South, that stuff, Central, West. So teams like St. John's of Shrewsbury and Springfield (Central) are no longer in Division 3. They're in Division 1 like they should be."

That would be a major plus and victory for the new system. Over the last two years, St. John's and then Central, two Division 1-sized programs, winning the Division 3 state title over much smaller enrollment schools in North Attleboro and Tewksbury, respectively, has drawn major controversy.

"That timeline hasn't been set yet," O'Leary said of those changes.

Still, the Maxpreps seeding for the tournament should be in place by 2020, which is the last year of the current alignment cycle. Everything else would hopefully be ready by 2021, but as O'Leary noted, nothing is set in stone.

With non-geographical brackets, or, as it is being called right now, a "pod system," a major shift in the platform would be in store.

"There's still people holding on to this whole sectional title thing," O'Leary said. "And we'd call it regions like the NCAA does, and so you'd get a West region champion. Maybe St. John's Prep is the West region champion. You'd still have something to put in your gym as the West region champ or whatever."

The use of Maxpreps as an algorithm to seed, and, down the road, qualify teams for the tournament, has been less-than-popular with some, but O'Leary believes it is a sound method.

"There (are) 38 states that do it. MaxPreps, or the football rating system, or even an RPI, every week, people are looking to see what it is, and it's updated every week. So I think that builds excitement," he said. "From that point of view, it's a bonus. There are people who don't like change. It's preparatory. So it's a situation where, 'I don't want to do the math.' It's 32 pages long of formula. It's the (Ned) Freeman one, of (calpreps.com). That's the basis of it. So, there's information out there.

"But people are worried about (how) point spread is part of it. But it's a cap. . . . It's 14 (points) now. So it means that if you lose five games by 14 points or greater, you're not a very good team. But you lose three games by under that, you're a better team. They were worried about people running up scores and all that. Some states have dropped out that number portion of it. I'm not opposed to it because there's a cap on it."

O'Leary stated simply why the need for an algorithm to drive so much of the process.

"We're trying to get the subjectivity out of it, is what we're trying to do," O'Leary said. "There's no math formula that's perfect. But I think that right now, the tournament management committee voted unanimously, and the board voted in the alignment committee and made no changes to what we presented. So that's the law of the land."

There are still plenty of details to be ironed out, such as when homefield advantage ends for teams, and how to manage host sites, and the like.

"That's why I say the proposal has to be more than just, let's do 32 teams, and let's do this, and do that," O'Leary said. "We have to have a financial plan. We have to have a site plan. So that's why we're going to put it together, work on it, hash it out, and go from there."

So other than the Maxpreps element and the 32 teams, there is a long ways to go. Still, the possibilities are intriguing. O'Leary mentioned one that would be a natural with the Maxpreps formula, while cautioning that it has not been discussed.

"But if you want to do a Super 8, top eight teams no matter what division," O'Leary said, "there you go."

It makes for an interesting discussion point, but at this point, a system that gets all Division 1-sized teams into Division 1 with a new seeding format may be enough to satisfy most people's thirst for change.

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