The day after the Fourth of July, Medfield High's Erik Ormberg was speaking with MassVarsity over the phone about the Warriors, the outlook for the Tri-Valley League for the upcoming season, players to watch, and so on.
Such is normal conversation for any offseason look-ahead, but then we asked how Ormberg feels about the MIAA playoff system that has been in place — with a few tweaks here and there — since 2013.
"Since I have your ear and it's July . . ." Ormberg starts, and our ears perked up a bit.
What follows from Ormberg is a plan to make changes to the current system, at least in Eastern Massachusetts. And, after he explains his position and emails a more complete literature of the plan he hatched along with his defensive coordinator, Brian Gavaghan, the proposal seems doable and, in some instances, an improvement.
Currently, the regular season in Eastern Mass. lasts seven games before the postseason begins, and eight teams qualify from each section based on either winning one's league or acquiring the requisite amount of power points. That latter formula, without getting into specifics, calculates an average based on wins, losses and opponent wins.
The brackets set for those eight teams are locked in by seed, and the Super Bowls — or state title games, depending on what one chooses to call them — occur after Thanksgiving. That last bit has led to certain teams over the years sitting their starters to protect them from injury, which leads to blowouts and embarrassing displays of football on a day where it is supposed to shine on the high school level.
But the plan Ormberg and Gavaghan put together can solve a few of the issues many have with the current way of doing things.
Among the main changes: starting practices and conditioning on August 15, regardless of the day of the week; opening the season on Labor Day weekend, instead of the following one; an eight-game regular season; a six-team playoff field with byes for the top two seeds and re-seeding afterward; and, finally, Super Bowl and state title games the weekend before Thanksgiving, with the latter games marking the end of the season for everyone.
"You can do it. I think the hockey people and the basketball people would be on board," Ormberg said. "I don't like having eight teams in the playoffs. I'd rather have six. I want to give the 1-seed and the 2-seed a bye. I think they deserve it, and then re-shuffle like the NFL does. I don't know anything about Western Mass. and Central Mass. football, and I'm sure it's way more complicated than I'm saying. But we all scrimmage on Labor Day weekend. So we're all here. So just have that be your opening week and then roll everything back a week so you're not going into basketball season, you're not going into hockey season."
One major issue with the plan is that, as Ormberg notes, it does not account for Central or Western Mass. The Super Bowls, in his example, end with the North vs. South champions playing each other. That would obviously defeat one of the main purposes of the current system.
But Ormberg is quick to note that he likes the what the playoffs offer now. He just wants to see it evolve.
"There's a way to do it. I don't know what stands in the way of these things," Ormberg said. "The playoff system as it is right now, I do like it, and it's funny to me these people that complain about it that are in these playoffs all the time. My goodness, we're able to say that we're playing in a playoff game. That didn't happen (before). You had to win the league (in the old system). You had to stay healthy. You maybe had to survive an early-season loss back 10 years ago. Now everyone's got an opportunity. I think that's great. I think it's great for the game of football. But Thanksgiving's a reality."
That reality under Ormberg and Gavaghan's system would still have relevance, the Medfield coach offered.
"I just think, honestly, if you won a Super Bowl on Saturday and then played in front of your hometown, it's like a Homecoming," Ormberg said. "If you lost a Super Bowl, you'd still have a way to kind of end it for the seniors that is special because of the rivalry component. Everybody's already calling it, 'Well, it's a scrimmage. It doesn't even count anymore.' You can't tell that to alumni that it doesn't count anymore. You can't tell that to 17-year-old kids that are putting pads on for the last time in their lives, or their parents. It's not just a game. That's what makes football different."
And with those games being the last of the season, no one would rest their starters on Thanksgiving. That's at least one problem solved.
It may not be a perfect plan, but neither is the current one. At the very least, Ormberg and Gavaghan should be applauded for their attempt at reform.