The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

MIAA provides structure for sports at the high school

Graphic by Marco Neer
For over forty years, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) has been responsible for establishing various rules and guidelines that are followed by various sports teams at the high school.

If someone asked you what “MIAA” stands for or asked you to talk about what it does, would you be able to answer?

While many sports operate within the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), the organization is complex and hard to understand. There have been numerous points of contention when it comes to the MIAA’s regulations. A notable point of contention is whether or not private and public high schools should play against each other in the same leagues. Another current source of frustration with the association’s regulations is its enforcement of rules, including player waivers and eligibility windows.


The MIAA was founded in July 1978. Since then, the MIAA’s Board of Directors has been the managerial and enforcing body of the organization, regulating and proposing changes in the rules to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Council (MIAC), a council within the association itself. The Assembly of Principals is the legislative body of the MIAA. In short, the Assembly is the association’s law-making body, and the Board of Directors is the main executive branch.

The Assembly is composed of each member school’s principal or principal’s designee. A member school is defined as any public or private high school in Massachusetts approved by the Board of Directors. This typically means a school’s Athletic Director will be part of the Assembly; Athletic Director Kyle Williams, for example, serves as the high school’s representative to the Assembly when Head of School Anthony Meyer cannot make it to a meeting.

Williams said that although not all of the high school’s sports are MIAA sports, BHS’ athletic staff tries to hold all sports to the MIAA’s set of rules, providing an equivalent experience for athletes.

Academic eligibility is one way the MIAA regulates its member schools. According to Williams, the high school’s standard is actually more restrictive than the MIAA’s.

“That’s why [the MIAA’s standard] is called ‘baseline;’ it’s going to be the lowest bar that you can cross to be eligible. And we can have restrictions that can go beyond that,” Williams said. “One example of that is the chemical health rule. Brookline has a policy about being in the presence of illegal consumption of drugs or substances. And that is stricter, more stringent, than the MIAA rule. The MIAA rule is just about consumption.”

However, the MIAA is also responsible for exercising judgment when a member school has broken its rules.

For example, in October 2023, Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody was banned from all post-season play, the first time such a ban has occurred. The ban came after Bishop Fenwick allowed a 7th grader from a nearby school to play on their high school baseball team while simultaneously requesting a waiver for a fifth year of play for another student. The MIAA found the school violated Rule 87.6 of the MIAA Handbook surrounding student eligibility waivers, and it consequently applied the blanket postseason sports ban, which prevented them from participating in any postseason sports.

In the case of two disabled students at Catholic Memorial and Archbishop Williams high schools, however, the MIAA rejected their waiver for a fifth year of play when the students had spent a year at a specialized high school. This led parents and students to question whether or not the MIAA had gone too far.

The Board of Directors is made up of 26 members. Each member of the Board has a term of three years, and a minimum of four women have to be on the Board at all times.

Alignment in the MIAA (that is, determining which division a school plays in) is determined by something called competitive equity; previously, the number of students enrolled at a school was used as a basis for alignment. Beginning this year, in the 2023-24 season, the MIAA determined divisions through stability and high-needs numbers, figures that come from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Stability is a measure of how many students stay in a school/district throughout the year. Lower stability percentages mean that more students are in and out of the school, the average state stability percentage is 94.4%. Schools will still be able to appeal this alignment. High-needs numbers account for students that may be impacted in sports, through things like a disability or economic disadvantage. These two numbers are used to determine the divisions schools are in.

Public/private issue

There has been controversy over the MIAA’s decision to allow public and private schools to compete in the same leagues, with some citing a more limited pool of potential athletes in public schools. (Graphic by Carlotta Zanini)

In the MIAA, public and private schools play in the same divisions. The MIAA’s Member School List from Nov. 15, 2023, said 41 private schools are currently part of the organization’s 383 total member schools.

The issue of public and private schools playing in the same leagues has been discussed for a long time. Cambridge Rindge and Latin Athletic Director and Vice President of the Board of Directors Tom Arria said those who worry about private schools having an advantage are worried about the large pool of students the schools can pick from.

“There are some people across the state that are irritated that, you know, Catholic private schools have this outreach that goes with no borders, right?” Arria said. “Their kids can come from New Hampshire, or they can come from Rhode Island.”

On the other hand, public schools are limited to the athletes in their cities or towns. Their pool becomes even more restricted when those players choose to go to Catholic or private schools.

Stoneham High School Athletic Director David Pignone said before the current method of alignment, private schools were sometimes moved up a division simply because they are private schools.

“One of the things that the state identified was if your enrollment landed you in Division III and you’re a private school, we’re bumping you up to Division II. So that in itself is admitting that there is a difference if you’re a private school,” Pignone said. “They thought they were solving the problem by just bumping you up, and I don’t think it’s solving the problem.”

Williams said another part of the perceived unfairness of private and public schools playing in the same leagues is when students factor in athletic experience in choosing a high school.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) defines recruiting as “any solicitation of prospective student-athletes or their parents by an institutional staff member or by a representative of the institution’s athletics interests for the purpose of securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment and ultimate participation in the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.”

Recruitment violates the rules in the MIAA Handbook. According to the Handbook, “A school shall be deemed to be in violation of this rule if a representative, agent of the school… approaches an athlete and directly or indirectly attempts to persuade, recruit, or induce the athlete to enroll in, or transfer to, that school.” The penalty for violating this rule is ineligibility for participation in MIAA sports for one calendar year for the student. Schools would have to be under probation in the recruited sport or all sports for one calendar year, but, ultimately, the penalty is up to the Board of Directors.

Williams said that although schools aren’t supposed to be recruiting, he finds it hard to imagine athletics aren’t considered in the decision-making process for choosing what high school to attend.

“A school might have the best players from three different communities. They might also have the worst players. Who knows how they’re getting those players? The players are not supposed to be choosing the school for athletics specifically.”

Pignone said that although his argument about private schools having an advantage has nothing to do with illegal recruiting, he’s seen it happen, and schools have been caught.

“I’ve had great friends of mine that have had their own child, after playing a lacrosse tournament, get a phone call from a private school who was having a lacrosse tournament recruiting them and not realizing that their father was an [Athletic Director],” Pignone said. “I’m certainly not trying to hurt private schools by doing this, and I don’t want it to be mixed up with the fact that they illegally recruit or anything like that. I think those are things that happen. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s clearly an advantage for private schools.”

Arria said when he taught and coached in Catholic schools, the staff would try to market the educational opportunities at the school.

“It would be more about education and what you have, and why we feel that’s a good fit for individuals or maybe some individuals,” Arria said. “How you communicate that in terms of trying to, I’m not going to say recruit student-athletes, but recruit students to the school, right?”

However, sometimes schools are attractive enough on their own, making outward recruitment unnecessary.

“There are some programs that have become very successful that just the success alone is almost like a recruiting tool without even having a coach visit anybody, say anything to anybody, have any conversations with anybody,” Arria said.

Arria also said even though recruiting is against MIAA rules, he’s sure it still happens.

“I don’t want to be naive about this and say, ‘No, it never happens anywhere.’ I’m sure it happens. I will say that the MIAA has been very active in paying attention to the rulebook and making sure that the rules are upheld in all situations,” Arria said.

Pignone said he believes the best way to deal with private schools’ unfair advantage is to separate the leagues in which public and private schools play.

“By taking the privates out of the public school tournament, you would find the alignments in the public schools align much better,” Pignone said. “I think immediately, just by removing them, you see public schools much happier with looking at their division alignment and feeling like they’ve got a competitive equal opportunity, for the most part.”

He also said that dividing up private and public schools in alignment is just another way of separating things in the MIAA because of the clear difference between them. For example, schools would be divided into divisions based on their size.

“Why do we separate boys and girls? We separate them because there’s a difference. We separate schools by division because there’s a difference. A large school that has 2000 kids has a bigger pool of kids to choose from than a school in Division VI that has 500 kids,” Pignone said. “We divide our teams multiple ways so they can have that as competitive of an equal playing field as possible.”

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