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Go back to the six-division, four-team format.
Jeez, where are our manners?
The CIAC football committee is scheduled to meet today with player safety being the number one priority. It requires altering either the regular season schedule or playoffs.
The current playoff system features four divisions with eight teams. The semifinal round is played the Tuesday after Thanksgrabbing, followed by a semifinal round that Saturday. Some teams end up playing four games in 16 days. Five state finalists last season played 15 games in 14 weeks. That's nuts, especially considering that concussions and degenerative brain disease have rightfully become a huge fear in all contact sports.
The CIAC cannot sanction three rounds of playoff football in three weeks for two reasons:
• It's risky to play outdoors in mid-to-late December.
• Two-sport athletes are already missing enough practice time for winter sports (they could use a rest before the winter season, too).
It doesn't matter when the season begins because Thanksgiving Day is considered sacred by too many folks. The CIAC could start the season in July, but there would still be three playoff rounds after Thanksgrabbing.
Paul Hoey, the CIAC's Associate Executive Director, would like to cap the regular season at 10 games. The calendar allowed for an 11-game regular season last season. There's supposed to be 11 games next season, too. Further complicating that issue is that the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference, Naugatuck Valley League and South-West Conference all have championship games that generally add an extra game to the regular season schedule.
There are four ways to ensure that players only compete once a week:
• Start the playoffs before Thanksgrabbing. Hold the semifinal and quarterfinal rounds in Weeks 8 and 9, respectively. Those who don't qualify or are eliminated in the quarterfinals would be matched up against one another so that they'd get to play 10 games. Thanksgrabbing Daze games would continue. The state finals would be played the week after.
• Eliminate Thanksgrabbing. Hold the state finals either the week before or after Thanksgrabbing. Start the regular season early so that everyone is guaranteed 10 games.
• Reinstate the previous six-division, four-team format.
• An eight-division, four-team format.
We'll take the third option, please.
Everyone here at Polecat HQ hemmed-and-hawed over all potential options because they each had a downside. Coaches and other wags were consulted, too, to get their opinions.
Look, the Polecat HQ staff loves three rounds of playoffs. It's allowed for more participation. It's made it almost impossible for unbeaten or one-loss teams to miss states. It's also helped even the odds for teams from leagues that are more apt to play tougher schedules (i.e. the Southern Connecticut Conference and, now, the Pequot Football League's South Division).
Let's be honest here — Hand played a far better schedule than, say, Platt (Central Connecticut Conference Division III) last season. Hand wouldn't have qualified because it finished 8-3, having lost to Class L champion New Canaan, Class LL semifinalist West Haven and Xavier (7-3).
(We don't like pointing that out as we like Platt and its commitment to the manly discipline of the running arts last season, but it was clubbered at home in the quarterfinals by seventh seeded North Haven, which lost to fellow SCC member Hand and Class L runner-up Darien during its regular season.)
Hillhouse wouldn't have won the 2010 Class M championship because it finished 7-3 during the regular season and was seeded eighth.
Tired of hearing about the SCC? Okay, Norwich Free Academy wouldn't have qualified for states in 2012 despite finishing 10-0. It didn't win the LL title, but still, it wouldn't be right had it missed states.
So why get rid of the quarterfinals? Simple —more participation has barely changed the final outcome.
• Hillhouse was the only team seeded lower than four to win a state title.
• A bottom four seed has beaten a top four seed just 31.6-percent of the time the past four seasons (30-65).
• Teams seeded first or second have won 10 of the last 16 titles the past four seasons.
Eight four-team divisions wouldn't be awful, no matter how many scream "IT DEVALUES A STATE TITLE."
Eight, four-team divisions roughly translates to eight, 18-team divisions (the state has 146 teams).
The CIAC sanctions three playoff divisions for hockey.
There were 57 hockey teams last season.
There were 17 teams in Division I and 15 in Division III.
One-out-of-19 teams won a state title.
Polecat HQ staffers love the CIAC hockey playoffs and, unless we missed something, didn't hear anyone howling that there were too many divisions last season. Or that it diluted the significance of state titles won by Fairfield Prep, the Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe co-op, and the Newington-Berlin-Manchester co-op.
More to the point, do you really think a player is going to give a rat's ash if you tell them their state title means less because there were only 18 teams in their division?
It's arbitrary, but we opine that six divisions is just right.
Truth be told, we're fine with whatever the committee decides (and the CIAC Board of Control approves). Eight divisions. Six divisions. No Thanksgiving. Whatever. There isn't a perfect solution.
There'll be far less freak-out over the elimination of eight teams from the playoffs than tinkering with Thanksgrabbing, however, even if those games remained.
Ledyard coach Jim Buonocore provided a good devil's advocate argument for starting states before Thanksgrabbing. Teams still played to win when they had already qualified prior to states and only two teams played for the championship the following week. Many teams qualify for states prior to their Thanksgiving week games under the current system and still play to win.
It all makes sense, but folks don't always respond well to logic.
Go back to the 6 x 4 format. Establish a safeguard whereby any unbeaten team automatically qualifies (which means bouncing a one-or-two loss team out. The odds that a division would have more than four unbeaten teams is kinda' remote). Play the semifinals the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and the finals the following Saturday. Better yet, have two sites host three games so that fans get more bang for their buck.
The FCIAC, NVL and SWC will have to figure out how to squeeze their conference final into the regular season without the participants playing 11 games.
May we humbly request holding each of those games in Week 9. That would count as the ninth game for the conference finalists, while the rest of the conference pairing off against one another.
(Yes, we know that the FCIAC, NVL and SWC all have an uneven number of teams. Let each league figure out how to get all of its teams games in Week 9.)
LET'S ADD A TWIST — in order to ensure that the best teams qualify, have Ned Freeman's computer rankings both select and seed the teams. That way teams will be rewarded for playing better schedules, even if it may have cost them a better record.
Seed every two divisions as if it were one division, i.e. Class LL and Class L would have rankings as one division. The top four ranked teams would go to Class LL, the other four to Class L. Rinse and repeat for the other four divisions.
Say that folks will complain that no one would take the Class L, M or S finalists seriously? Again, those state champions wouldn't care what you think (nor would anyone 50 years from now when they see that state championship banner in the gym). That and stop complaining for once. THERE'S NO PERFECT SOLUTION. Try looking at the bright side of life for once, you cretinous misanthrope.
Say you want an open division to determine the state's number one team on the field instead of the polls? One thing at a time, man.
• • • •
Here's more on the proposed playoff changes (should you want to read more on the matter), and stories about proposed scheduling or playoff expansion in other states:
Sean Patrick Starfish, JRC Amalgamated: You say you want real football playoff reform? Say goodbye to Thanksgiving.
Tom Yantz, Hartford Courant: CIAC has many options for shortening season.
• • • •
There's no all-state team as old as the New Haven Register's. It started that sucker back in 1932 back when Hartford and New London both had a Bulkeley High School.
Fourteen players were named to all three of Connecticut's all-state teams (Walter Camp, the coaches', and the Register). Some players were named at different positions by one-or-more of the teams:
QB Stephen Barmore, Southington; DL Connor Buck, New Canaan; LB Nick Crowle, Fairfield Prep; TE-DB Julian Dunn, Newtown; LB Cole Harris, New Canaan; OL Steve Hashemi, St. Joseph; DB-UTL Dario Highsmith, Middletown; OL Ryan Hovan, Ansonia; WR Alex Jamele, Southington; DB Jordan Kowalski, Ledyard; DL Zach Maxwell, Southington; RB Arkeel Newsome, Ansonia; RB Ervin Philips, West Haven; DB-KR Jack Shaban, Barlow.
• • • •
Appreciate you reading. More later.
East Lyme returned just five players with any varsity experience and lost its first four games. It's made gradual improvement and downed Woodstock Academy last Friday, 42-7, its second-straight victory.