Playoff changes approved by vote of 193-140.

MARLBOROUGH -- Jeff Granatino, president of the MIAA, called it a "paradigm shift."

Starting in the fall of 2021, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) will ditch the regional-based sectional tournaments -- North, South, Central and West -- in favor of a statewide bracket for high school playoffs. Representatives from the 380 MIAA member schools voted 193-140 in favor of the change during a meeting Friday at Assabet Valley Tech.

“It’s a bold and comprehensive plan to improve our tournament structure and provide the most equitable and competitive path to a championship,” said Derek Folan, a member of the MIAA's Tournament Management Committee. “Most importantly, the plan enhances the student experience as they enter the magical and special experience of tournament play.”

Folan said the plan was made to provide a more equal chance for teams to compete for a state title. An example of this can be seen in Division 3 boys hockey. Only four teams qualified for the postseason in the Div. 3 West Sectional, compared to 17 in the South, 13 in the North and six in the Central. The South champion will need to win at least six games to win a state title while the West champion only needs four.

One argument against the statewide tournament was the potential for pitting teams four hours apart in a tournament game.

The potential benefits of the new format, highlighted by the TMC, include trying to resolve gender-equity issues, creating an equal path to a state championship and allowing teams from a similar area of the state to be able to square off in a state final. While some towns loved the area-based rivalries and the accomplishment of winning a sectional title, the sectionals will be eliminated entirely in the new format.

Under the new plan, all divisions will be realigned for each sport. Using MaxPreps’ proprietary ranking system, which rewards scheduling tougher games, the top 32 teams from all over the state in each division will qualify for the playoffs. Any remaining teams with a .500 record or better will be added to the bracket, but will have to play their way into the main field by winning qualifying games.

Once the TMC concluded their informational presentation, attendees and school representatives voiced their opinions about the proposal. Several representatives in support and against the proposal provided feedback and concerns before the vote was held.

One of the issues brought up was valuing the input of the students. Granby Athletic Director Alison Jordan asked the TMC panel why student representatives were not allowed to cast a vote in the process. Some attendees considered the new format to be a threat to the academic integrity of students for having to travel long distances across the state for a tournament game.

In response, the TMC added that it was the responsibility of athletic directors to coordinate with their own student-athletes to come to a unified vote by the time of the assembly.

“We voted yes to look at going to the statewide tournament format,” said Brockton athletic director Kevin Karo. “I think, for us, it’s a good choice because I feel in the past, a lot of the better teams have come out of our section and we ended up playing each other in the sectional finals. It will bring a lot of good parity across the state.”

“I think it’s a big change that a lot of people are nervous about,” said Abington athletic director Peter Serino. “But in my opinion it’s a change and opportunity to be a really great thing for student athletes.”

The principal of Pembroke High School, Marc Talbot, was also in attendance to offer his input.

“My reaction to the vote is a little bit surprised,” said Talbot. “I didn’t know it would pass by the margin that it did. But the reason why we voted yes was I am interested in the environment a statewide tournament can provide. I think the cons, like travel time, would not be universally applied and we don’t know that yet.”

While the proposal passed by 53-vote margin, there was still some unease among the school reps who voted no.

“We weighed all the pros and cons, and our biggest concern was how it was going to affect kids in the classroom,” said Norwell girls basketball coach Matt Marani, who is an assistant principal at the school. “We believe in the instruction and education of our students and time out of the classroom is a concern. And at the end of the day we are an instructional institution and we’re hoping we can provide the same extracurricular experiences traveling across the state.”

Devin Nelson can be reached at dnelson@enterprisenews.com. Follow him on Twitter @nellydevin.