The major complaint about the MHSAA Football Playoffs is not that too few teams qualify or too many, or that a five-week playoff is too long or should become six weeks, or that some worthy teams miss out while some less worthy teams get in. No; most people find a five-week, 11-player tournament after a nine-game regular season is the best that our late start to fall classes and our early start to winter weather will allow us in Michigan.
Many people appreciate being able to complete our 14-week season in the warmth of Ford Field on the Friday and Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. Most people think that nearly 45 percent of 11-player schools is a sufficient tournament field. Many people like the excitement that the six-win threshold creates for teams that had been eliminated earlier from league championships.
The most serious and legitimate complaint about the season-ending playoffs is the stress it has placed on conferences and the struggles many schools have in building nine-game regular-season schedules. Some critics want to mess with the Football Playoffs because of the mess they believe it makes for regular-season schedulers.
Having the MHSAA provide every school a nine-game regular season schedule of the most nearby teams of the most nearly equal enrollments would shift scheduling headaches from the local level to the MHSAA.
I’m not suggesting that this solution to local problems doesn’t create new, large headaches for the MHSAA. But in fact, that is the tradition of school sports: when an issue is large enough in scope and common enough among member schools, the state high school association is asked to be the problem-solver. That’s how we got transfer rules, defined sports seasons and competitive cheer tournaments, for example. Just about every policy and procedure and program of the MHSAA arises from a common local problem looking for a statewide solution.
The 2014 Update Meeting Opinion Poll indicates that 70 percent of responding administrators do not favor the solution of the MHSAA making all schools’ regular-season varsity football schedules. Maybe the question should be narrowed to having the MHSAA complete member schools’ non-conference scheduling.
Meanwhile, we will keep watching as high school associations in other states move to statewide scheduling. For if scheduling is the problem, then scheduling itself needs to be the focus of the solution.
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)