, Salem, MA

December 7, 2012

NEC football may forgo state's new playoff system; Saugus leaving conference as well

By Phil Stacey
Sports editor

---- — Two monumental moves have happened within the Northeastern Conference within the last few days.

Unsatisfied with the state’s new football playoff plan, the NEC athletic directors took a straw poll yesterday to determine whether or not the conference should try to enter into a postseason football partnership with the Merrimack Valley Conference, which is also reportedly upset with the new postseason playoff system.

Taking a straw poll went 10-2 in favor of potential opportunity with the MVC (with Swampscott and Saugus as the no votes).

Beverly High athletic director James Coffey, who was at yesterday’s meeting, confirmed that this is one of several possible scenarios that have been bandied about by the conference’s athletic directors and principals.

Under this proposed plan, the NEC would continue as scheduled as a two-tiered league next fall: NEC Large and NEC Small, with six teams in each. The Merrimack Valley League, apparently upset that many of their long-time rivalries won’t continue under the state’s new playoff setup, also has Large and Small school divisions.

If this idea were to come to fruition — and it’s likely to be met with opposition from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) — the NEC and MVC schools would play their ‘normal’ 10 or 11-game footballs schedules (as opposed to the new 7-game regular season and ensuing playoffs under the new MIAA plan). The winner of the NEC Large would then play the MVC Large champion in a postseason ‘bowl’ game; the NEC Small and MVC Small titlists would do likewise.

The MIAA’s board of directors would likely need to approve any non-playoff, post-Thanksgiving game such as the NEC/MVC ‘bowl’ games.

“I don’t see the benefit of something like this to our student-athletes,” said Swampscott head coach Steve Dembowski, “Especially when I think the odds of it getting through the board are 1-out-of-100.”

The MVC athletic directors, who may be meeting today on the topic, are said to be split on the idea.

Also, Saugus High School — a member school of the NEC since 1968 — has applied for, and been granted unanimous acceptance, into the Cape Ann League beginning with the 2013-14 school sports season for all sports.

The NEC athletic directors will vote to make this a reality a week from today. Saugus was welcomed into the league by the CAL ADs on Tuesday.

For years, Saugus, which has one of the smaller student bodies in the NEC, has been looking for a smaller league to join and thus become more competitive across the board in all sports. With many feeling that Masconomet Regional High School in Topsfield — the Cape Ann League’s biggest school — has outgrown the league, bringing in Saugus appears to be more in line with what most schools have numbers-wise.

Subsequently, Masconomet would love to matriculate to the bigger Northeastern Conference, a move that some NEC ADs support and others are leery of.

By removing Saugus, the Northeastern Conference would be left with 11 member schools: Beverly, Salem, Danvers, Peabody, Marblehead, Swampscott, Gloucester, Winthrop, Lynn Classical, Lynn English and Revere.