Possible shake-ups in the new MIAA football alignments could take place, causing significant changes in Berkshire County for the upcoming season.
Five Western Massachusetts schools have sent appeals to the MIAA to change their new division alignment. Pittsfield and Taconic have requested to move from Division III to Division IV. Lee and Drury have requested a move from Division IV to Division IV-A. Also in Western Mass, Easthampton requested to move from Division III to Division IV.
Schools submitted appeals to the MIAA Football Committee on Jan. 8.
Taconic, Pittsfield, Lee and Easthampton had their initial appeals denied. Drury had its appeal accepted, but the move down in division required an end of its co-op with St. Joseph. The existing co-op added St. Joe's 48-boy enrollment — which bumped up to 62 after the 1.3 private school multiplier — to Drury's 148-boy enrollment, placing Drury in Division IV. The division alignments are based mainly on enrollment numbers. Lee would be in a similar position, needing to drop its co-op with Lenox in order to move down a division. The Wildcats have not indicated that they plan to do that.
"With using enrollment numbers strictly throughout the state, if teams keep their co-op they will not win the appeal," Hoosac Valley Athletic Director and Football Committee member Michael Henault said. "We've been consistent in denying schools with numbers above said [enrollment] mark."
Drury Athletic Director Chris Barbarotta said Drury appreciated St. Joe's participation in the co-op, but in order to maintain the program, ending the co-op was necessary.
"When Drury was strong we could've competed with anybody," he said. "With how the numbers have lowered, we have to compete to keep kids interested.
"It's unfortunate because we have a good relationship with St. Joe."
Current St. Joe players can continue to play at Drury until they graduate. It is unclear where future St. Joe football players will play.
The football committee's decisions on the appeals were sent out last Friday. Schools have until Jan. 29 to submit an appeal of the football committee's decision to the Sectional Subcommittee. The full MIAA Football Committee will meet Feb. 8 to hear final appeals and ratify alignments.
St. Joe Athletic Director Lori Cote said the school has a meeting with the MIAA private schools on Jan. 28 to request dropping the 1.3 multiplier applied to the enrollment. Regardless of the outcome of that meeting, the co-op between Drury and St. Joe is over, however, as the move from 62 to 48 boys would still bump Drury back into Division IV.
"They've got to do what they've got to do for their kids," Cote said. "They're in the division that they need to be in for their school. They're trying to keep their program going,"
Cote serves as the athletic director and the admissions director at the school. She said the inability to field a team is reflective of the school's low enrollment number. Even if St. Joe does not field a team next year, she said it does not signify the permanent end of the football program.
"The last two classes have been very small in numbers, but we've had a large amount of applicants for next year," she said. "I think we've hit the bottom and now we're turning things around.
"We're hoping not next year, but the year after to start the program on our own. We'll probably start off on a junior varsity level for the first year or two. That is our goal."