The return to the fall tournament was greeted with enthusiasm and change. But change was not necessary to attend.
A year after sports were changed or moved at the end of winter and the playoffs were dropped, it was the playoffs that were changed this time around. The most notable changes were in the seeds, the lack of section tournaments and a new ticket purchase process for the return to a full fall season that ends on Friday with the final two football matches of the Championship. ‘State at Gillette Stadium.
Power rankings were used to determine playoff seeds – instead of team records – and the sections were replaced with a “real” state tournament format, where schools faced opponents from all over Massachusetts – literally, in some cases – from the start.
Buying tickets online, the only way to buy them at most venues, was the biggest departure for spectators.
Athletic directors who responded to inquiries about this story – as well as the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association – reported mostly positive comments about the many changes, with most of the difficulties blamed on technology.
“I think there were growing pains, but that will only get better as we learn more,” said Steve Martin, Managing Director of Acton-Boxborough. “I think for the first time it was a success.
“I felt like the better teams were able to go further in the tournament,” said Mike Jackson, Newton North’s freshman DA, who saw two teams (volleyball, men’s soccer) reach league matches on the same day.
“The feedback has been positive,” said MIAA’s Tara Bennett. “We’ve had issues with some of the new pieces – the online ticketing and some of the travel because of the new format. It’s just a matter of change.
Concord-Carlisle allowed two teams to qualify for the last four (field hockey, men’s soccer), another for the top eight (women’s volleyball) and another for the round of 16 (women’s football). Many of those games have been played at home because of the Patriots’ ability to finish high in the state powers standings.
The MIAA made the rankings available for each sport on a weekly basis, which were quickly shared on social media. And because there were no more section tournaments, many top-ranked teams played at home until the Neutral States semi-final matches.
“It makes the regular season more meaningful because your goal can now be to host as many potential home games as possible,” said DA Concord-Carlisle Aaron Joncas. “During those few weeks that we’ve been hosting these games, it’s fun. Enthusiasm in school during the day, it kicks kids out of youth and family programs – especially where everything was upside down with COVID; to have everyone able to watch and enjoy every game – for me that was a really good experience.
A major drawback to a “real” state tournament was the travel. For Divisions 1 and 2, where most schools are in the eastern part of the state, distance was not an issue.
But there were exceptions: Falmouth Academy played Pathfinder Regional (Palmer) in a Division 5 men’s soccer game (131 miles one way); or Franklin County and Westport (138 miles one way) in the first round of Division 4 field hockey; or the longest drive (210 miles each way, including an overnight stay in Hyannis and a ferry ride) Monument Mountain to Great Barrington endured to face Nantucket in a D4 match in the 32nd Round.
“It’s part of the statewide tournament,” Bennett said. “I know people have expressed concern about this. But the feedback we received from the schools involved in this long journey was positive. They said it was a great experience for their children. They were able to see parts of the state that they would not normally be able to see.
Bay State across the States
With all the possibilities offered by a statewide tournament, the Division 1 playoffs ended up being a showcase for the Bay State Conference. The BSC teams met in the Boys State Soccer Championship (Brookline defeated Newton North) and the Women’s Volleyball title match (Needham defeated Newton North) while Natick won his first crown of Women’s football state.
Walpole, also from Bay State, reached the field hockey final. With a section tournament, some of these teams may never have reached the state semifinals.
“We had to go play in the south section, which for so many sports was really the strongest section of the four,” said Needham High AD DA Dan Lee. “Going through the southern section would be very trying and very difficult. ”
“In the past,” said Jackson of Newton North, “in the Bay State Conference in particular, teams were fighting early in the tournament. ”
The ups and downs of online ticketing
The MIAA has introduced another new aspect of the playoffs, restricting ticket purchases only online.
Cashless is a growing trend and was expected to happen, especially with COVID-19 still a concern. But that was not the only consideration.
“To help with efficiency and safety, on many levels,” Bennett said. “One being to not have all that money around. What would happen before with the paper tickets, people would get their tickets and they would all have to be accounted for and have these checks and balances. Going online you gain a lot. It also allowed (schools) to plan and better prepare for their tournament games.
“It was easy at the door. You haven’t seen a lot of lines.
“It went better than expected,” Joncas said. “I understand why the MIAA has changed the ticketing process. If you go to Boston Garden or Fenway Park, you no longer hand out a paper ticket. I think it turned out better than many of us hoped, as it was unknown and we didn’t know it. ”
But the technology was not always consistent.
In Newton North, where Wi-Fi and cell service are poor, staff “hit the panic button a bit,” Jackson said during a volleyball game when spectators struggled to scan the QR code on their phone after purchasing tickets earlier. on the GoFan app.
North was able to pivot and collect money that night, but the problem persists.
“For indoor events here, this created a problem because we have very poor cell service here and sometimes the internet is poor and sometimes we couldn’t redeem tickets on site,” Jackson said. “I am concerned about basketball and other sports in the winter; if we have this kind of problem, it’s not going to change. People can still buy their tickets in advance, but you still need cell service or Wi-Fi to redeem the ticket on the spot. It’s a bit of a concern for us.
Newton South’s DA Pat Rivero Gonzalez shared the same concern.
Although she said the process was convenient and safer because the money was not processed, “housing for people who do not have access to cell phones or credit cards must be made. MIAA recognized the problem of allowing cash tickets in the lower towers. ”
Rivero Gonzalez said tickets for the South Girls Football Final Four playoff game against Hingham were bought in bulk by an anonymous fan who purchased them online.
Otherwise, according to Bennett, the process went smoothly.
“The comments from the people who used it were, ‘Oh my gosh it’s so easy, it was so effective.’ We know of a handful of schools that have now completely switched to online ticketing, ”she said. “Change can be tough, but at the end of the day the enthusiasm for the kids was evident and that’s what it is. ”
Free hoops at CC
After a full drop in playoff games – at home and away – Concord-Carlisle is giving fans’ portfolios a break. The school normally charges spectators for basketball games in the regular season, but not this season.
Between soccer, field hockey and volleyball, the Patriots have played 13 tournament games. At $ 10 per game, the costs can add up quickly. Throw yourself into a weekly soccer game and the total just keeps going up.
“I just feel like the revenue we earn from ticket sales during the regular season is not a major part of supporting our programs,” Joncas said, “so if the trade-off is that more kids can watch the games… the kids come to a game on a Friday night, they are in a supervised environment, they do something suitable for school, it’s fun, we know where they are, they can be with their friends and can support their teammates.
“It’s part of what makes high school sport fun. ”
Follow Tim Dumas on Twitter: @TimDumas.