NHIAA Cuts Down on Playoff Teams

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, August 26, 2016

Concord — The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association’s media day Thursday at the NHIAA headquarters offered a glimpse of present-day challenges faced by a state’s governing body for high school sports. Topics such as policies for transgender athletes, mercy rules for championship games and the ever-growing threat of declining school enrollment hit home with NHIAA executive director Jeff Collins.

But the biggest change from a year ago, as Collins announced, is the NHIAA’s new policy for postseason seeding, which will be fully enacted for the first time this fall. No more than 70 percent of a sport’s division can be eligible for the postseason, effectively eliminating the possibility for every team, despite its record, making the playoffs.

Collins said the idea behind it was to cut down on travel costs as well as fix the competitive advantage for high-seeded teams facing an underperforming opponent in the first few rounds.

“Take winter sports, for example,” Collins said. “You could have a No. 1 team playing a No. 16 team, they could be traveling across the entire state of New Hampshire for an opportunity to play in the playoffs, which some believe to be a great opportunity, but others believe if you’re traveling three hours to lose by 30 points, then what’s the benefit of that?

“It’s in respect to travel costs and stuff like that. … It was really brought forth by the athletic directors.”

The new postseason policy will mostly affect fringe teams in the hunt for a postseason berth and smaller divisions, such as D-III boys ice hockey, that will make for a smaller playoff bracket. Individual sports committees outlined their own policies to specify postseason seeding, most choosing to include the most number of teams allowable.

Others, like girls lacrosse, chose a number of teams (eight) that fit within the boundaries of the policy, even with some divisions sporting 16 teams.

“That was put back to every sports committee to see how many teams they wanted to take,” Collins said. “There are sports that are taking the 70 percent maximum. … There are some sports that went lower than the 70 percent max. There will still be byes for unequal numbers.”

General division alignments for each school have also changed from a year ago, as the NHIAA’s two-year classification period came up once again this offseason. For the last two years, Division III counted a whopping 29 schools, far more than any other NHIAA division, with 2013 school populations ranging between 301 and 650 students. This year, D-III is down to 23 schools as D-II and D-IV have inherited some of those on the edge.

As in Vermont, declining enrollments has led the NHIAA to adjust the population boundaries of its divisions. For instance, D-I now requires a minimum of 1,151 students, down from 1,226. Pinkerton, Exeter and Dover are the only traditional D-I schools that have seen population growth over the past two years.

“Of course it concerns us, because we’re trying to promote the benefits of high school athletics,” Collins said. “It’s odd for me to say, but it’s not about who gets the plaque or a state championship. The benefits are there for everyone who played high school sports. …

“We’re having conversations with athletic directors on how do we make sure we get out there and talk to kids. A lot of it is on the principals saying, ‘What are you getting involved in?’ ”

None of the Upper Valley’s New Hampshire high schools have changed divisions in soccer, basketball, softball or baseball. Other sports classify their schools individually. Stevens High, however, is now the largest high school in D-III with 545 students.

The Upper Valley’s New Hampshire high schools — Stevens, Hanover, Lebanon, Newport, Mascoma, Woodsville and Sunapee — all saw a decrease in enrollment from 2013 to 2015.

Other topics brought up on Thursday were a new heat-related illness course that coaches will be required to take along with their mandatory concussion course in order to eligible, an updated NHIAA website that is scheduled to go live for the winter sports season and a continuation of the NHIAA’s Life of an Athlete program.

Collins also was asked about the application of mercy rules during championship games, a topic which he said would be addressed during committee meetings for individual sports.

Most New Hampshire fall high school sports teams open their seasons early next week.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.