CIAC proposal: Return football playoffs to four divisions in 2015

Compromise is tricky, and generally someone walks away from the table feeling cheated.

The CIAC football committee agreed to a new playoff proposal on Thursday that satisfies all parties. The proposal would keep Thanksgiving Day games, return to a four division, eight-team playoff system, allow for extra rest during the regular season and playoff games, and cap the amount of contact at practice.

The proposal is a two-year trial plan for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, pending CIAC Board of Control approval. The Board is scheduled to meet on Aug. 21.

"It was a win-win for everybody," said New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, chairman for the coaches on the football committee. "I commend those guys on the CIAC. They really did a good job. It's not easy in today's climate when football has taken such a bad rap to be able to come out like this."

Football had used a four division, three-game format the previous three seasons. It resulted in teams playing three games in 12 days — quarterfinals on Tuesday, semifinals on Saturday, and the finals the following Saturday. Many teams also play on Thanksgiving the Thursday before the quarterfinals, resulting in four games in just 17 days for some state finalists.

In addition, state champions Ansonia (Class S) and New Canaan (Class L) were two of five teams that played 15 games in 14 weeks last season due to league championship games that were held the week before Thanksgiving.

The system was abruptly scrapped after the 2013 season on recommendations from the Connecticut State Medical Society Sport Medicine Committee over player safety. There will only be semifinal and final rounds this fall and will be played on separate weekends.

The CIAC and its football committee didn't want to scale back the number of playoff participants (32), so they compromised by having eight four-team divisions this fall. Privately, a number of coaches on the football committee disliked bristled at the thought of expanding to eight divisions, but reluctantly agreed in order to remain at 32 playoff participants.

There had been discussions to begin the postseason prior to Thanksgiving, but that was met with resistance from regions with longstanding holiday rivalry games.

The new playoff plan would cap the season at 10 regular-season games, including league championship games. Currently, those games are played in addition to those scheduled during the regular season.

The Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference is the only league that will hold a title game this fall. The Naugatuck Valley League and South-West Conference voted to drop their championship games. Marinelli, whose school belongs to the FCIAC, was uncertain how the league would structure its title game.

The new three-round proposal would allow for 4-5 days between games. The 2015 dates haven't been set yet, but Sean Bowley of GameTimeCT.com reported that one idea was to play the quarterfinals on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the semifinals the following Sunday or Monday and the finals on Saturday.

"I thought (three rounds) was the best," Marinelli said. "I thought we had gotten true state champions. To get back to that and to have the CIAC find the way they did to be able to keep that was magnificent."

There are other significant elements to the plan to reduce the amount of contact at practice:

• A maximum of 120 minutes of contact per week during the preseason.

• A maximum of 90 minutes of contact per week between games one and nine.

• One week would be added to the season allowing for a bye week with zero live contact.

• A maximum of 45 minutes of contact per week after the ninth game.

• No contact at practice after the 10th and final game of the regular season.

All football playing schools will be required to participate in the Reporting Information Online Injury Surveillance study to examine data and see if the reduced contact benefitted players or not.

"I think from the coaches standpoint, the first and foremost priority is keeping the games safe for our players," Ledyard coach and football committee member Jim Buonocore said. "There's no question about that. This proposal does that and it exceeds that. We wanted to make sure that our great game is staying safe for our student-athletes."

n.griffen@theday.com

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