By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
To accommodate an increasing number of member schools moving to 8-player football, while continuing to provide a championship opportunity for schools with the smallest enrollments, the Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association approved the addition of a second division to the 8-Player Football Playoffs among multiple actions taken during its annual Winter Meeting on March 24 in East Lansing.
A total of 60 Class D schools have declared so far they will sponsor 8-player varsity football teams this fall, a 20-percent increase in tournament-eligible teams from last season (only Class D schools currently are eligible for the MHSAA tournament in this sport). The Council voted to expand the 8-player tournament to two four-week, 16-team brackets, with schools divided based on enrollment. Since its first season of MHSAA tournament sponsorship in 2011, 8-player football has finished with one 16-team playoff.
The two-division, four-week format provides the smallest MHSAA member schools a shorter tournament involving schools with a smaller difference in enrollment, both of which may enhance participant health and safety. The championships games will occur the weekend before Thanksgiving. Qualification criteria, enrollment limits and MHSAA Finals venues will be discussed at the Council’s Spring Meeting, May 7-8.
The Council also discussed venue possibilities for future wrestling and basketball Finals rounds, with sites for the 2017-18 school year to be selected not later than the Spring Meeting. The Basketball Finals, played the last many seasons at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center for both girls and boys, would have with their currently-scheduled dates one or the other in conflict in future seasons with Breslin’s potential opportunity to host NCAA Tournament first and second-round games for MSU’s women’s basketball team. The Council will review proposals for hosting the Basketball Finals at the Spring Meeting, and also consider the possibility of altering schedules for the tournaments to accommodate venue availability.
The MHSAA Wrestling Finals have been conducted for the team tournament the last two years at Central Michigan University’s McGuirk Arena, while the individual tournament has finished the last 15 seasons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The contract with McGuirk Arena ended with this winter’s tournament, and with the future of The Palace uncertain, the MHSAA is considering options for moving that event as well.
The Council also approved a recommendation from the MHSAA Baseball/Softball Committee to classify those two sports independently beginning with the 2017-18 school year. Currently, schools are placed in the same divisions for both sports, and also play in the same tournament groupings for both. This action allows for the sports to be organized separately, and came in response to fewer schools sponsoring both baseball and softball teams, which has led to Districts with uneven numbers of teams (more for softball at a particular site than for baseball, or vice versa).
Also in football, the Council approved a Football Committee recommendation that the MHSAA seek permission from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to continue to experiment with a 40-second clock for use between plays. Teams taking part in the experiment will have 40 seconds from the end of the previous play to snap the ball to begin the next, unless there is an administrative stoppage (for penalty, measurement, etc.). MHSAA schools began experimenting with the 40-second clock during the 2016 season.
In addition to sport matters, the Council discussed a paper prepared by the Michigan State University Institute for the Study of Youth Sports entitled “Gender Differences in Youth Sport Concussion.” The paper delved into findings by the MHSAA during its 2015-16 concussion reporting that showed a greater number of reports of concussions for females than males in the same sport (for example, basketball and soccer). The MHSAA’s findings, and the Institute’s comparisons with findings of other organizations and researchers, will be used to help shape MHSAA services and support to school sports.
The Representative Council is the legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five members are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities, and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,400 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.