When Berkshire County football teams kick off the 2013 season Friday, they'll also be launching the new statewide playoff system.
Coaches across Massachusetts voted in favor of a two-year trial last October. Instead of 18 state champions last year -- which were actually sectional champions -- Massachusetts will now have just six, true state champions. That in itself has many area coaches happy.
"It's always been kind of embarrassing, not even these last three years, but years before where there was still 17 and 19 state champions in the small state of Massachusetts," Mount Greylock coach Shawn Flaherty said. "Where now, this seems very legit that there's only going to be six state champions, and I think that's great."
In order to make the statewide system work, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has added two divisions for a total of six and reclassified all teams into one of the six. In past years, there have been only four divisions. The reclassification was based on enrollment and past program success. All Berkshire County teams are in either Division IV, V or VI (Western Mass. has teams in Division II, also). Wahconah is the lone county school in Division IV, and they have the smallest enrollment in that division in Western Mass.
"You only put 11 on the field," Wahconah coach Gary Campbell said. "Whether you have 8,000 or 800 kids, you still only play 11. Some small schools are really good. So we'll see what happens."
Teams will qualify for the postseason based on a power ranking system. Four west teams will qualify in each division.
In short, the system rewards teams for winning. After that, it rewards a challenging schedule, so schools that beat teams in higher divisions will gain more points. When you beat a team, you also get two points for each of their wins throughout the season. Points are then divided by the number of games you play, and that produces a Power Ranking. This ranking is used for playoff seeding qualifying and seeding.
"It definitely narrows the field down. I think it makes things extremely more competitive and much more difficult for any Western Mass. team to go and compete with say some of the bigger schools," Flaherty said. "But that's the way you want to see the tournament, though. You want to have things decided on Friday nights or Saturday nights and that's the way the tournament's set up, so it should be interesting."
Yes, gone is the awful Tuesday night sectional semifinal. Each game throughout the playoffs is scheduled for either Friday or Saturday. The playoffs begin in Week 9 (Nov. 1 and 2), except in Western Mass. Because only four teams qualify for the postseason in the West section, no quarterfinal games need to be played.
Unlike years past, sectional playoff games will be played at the higher seed of that particular game. This is good news for Berkshire County teams, which routinely traveled to neutral sites outside the county for all playoff games.
After the sectional tournament, winners advance to the state semifinals. West and Central will play for the right to contend for the state title against the winner of the North vs. South game. The final is at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 7.
While McCann Tech coach Bob LeClair has never played or coached in a football state title game, he's seen plenty of them. He routinely heads to Syracuse, N.Y., to watch the state finals in the Carrier Dome.
"It's fantastic to watch that stuff," he said. "I saw Weedsport there, 23 kids on the team, win a state championship. That's what those kids are looking forward to playing for, to come play on Thanksgiving weekend. You can't beat it."
For teams that don't qualify for the playoffs, their season will continue for two more weeks. They will play two games against other teams that aren't in the playoffs. When a playoff-qualifying team is eliminated before the sectional final, they are also added to this pool of teams, giving each team at least a nine-game schedule.