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    Wednesday, August 17, 2022

    Meet the new loss, same as the old loss, for CT tech school football

    Manchester — The scoreboard, still illuminated behind Rob Fleeting, read Windsor 62, Cheney Tech 0. And to think this was a playoff game. Or what passes for one amid the CIAC's benign neglect of competitive balance.

    Fleeting, the longtime coach at Windsor, was asked if this felt like a playoff game.

    "That's a tough question to answer," he said, unwittingly giving the best answer of all.

    Fleeting went on to teach a veritable college course in diplomacy. He meant no ill will toward Cheney Tech. But how does one process this counterintuitive feeling of a glorified scrimmage in what should have been the biggest game of the season?

    "We're excited to be in the playoffs," Fleeting said. "Sometimes a lot of teams play down to their competition. Not to say anything negative about Cheney Tech. But we were doing what we wanted to do. We're happy to be here. That's all I can say."

    That's all he could say because what's left to say about this defective playoff system that allows technical school and tech school cooperatives to play for the same trophies as perennial state powers? In the two previous state tournaments, tech school qualifiers Abbott Tech/Immaculate (2019) and Cheney (2018) lost by a combined score of 111-6, outcomes that are not merely unfair to the tech schools, but alter the integrity of the brackets.

    Straight up: Among its many obligations, the CIAC bears the responsibility of establishing equitable baselines for the games our kids play, identifying and adjusting competitive imbalances in the name of a fair opportunity to succeed.

    In this case, technical schools and other cooperatives belong in a separate state tournament division. The athletic missions of technical schools are far more secondary than in their public/choice counterparts, evidenced by their inability to win even one playoff game to date.

    Cooperatives, by definition, are created because of modest participation numbers, thus making them ill-suited to play what lurked for them in Class L this season: St. Joe's, Hand, Windsor, etc.

    And yet the CIAC's playoff structure remains robotic and formulaic. Rather than developing networks of representatives from member schools who will take the deep dive into details, the CIAC prefers this one-size-fits-all melody of enrollment numbers telling all — and not the deeper significance of how the numbers are constructed. This allows tech school kids to compete for the same trophy as St. Joe's.

    Once again: This is not an attempt to throw tech school programs down a flight of stairs. They deserve a chance to compete for a trophy. Just not in this format, where their presence ruins the integrity of the tournament bracket.

    Example: The residual effect of Tuesday's competitive mismatch between Cheney and Windsor will spill into the semifinals. The short window (five days) between the quarterfinals and the semifinals leaves less recovery and preparation time. Windsor's lopsided lead allowed it to rest its starters most of the second half, while semifinal opponent St. Joseph was in a steel cage match against Hand (a 21-20 overtime win). No rest allowed.

    Windsor may still lose, but its good fortune in drawing a tech school allowed its players more rest and less physical exertion. That's a competitive advantage — a veritable quarterfinal bye — that the CIAC could and should avoid in the future.

    "It's a tough thing to manage," Fleeting said. "You don't know whether to take your kids out early, but you wonder if they got enough work in. Do you score or not score? I think it's good we were able to get them out. ... It's tough to coach a game like this."

    Quarterback Eli Cromartie said, "We have to look at every game like a playoff game. We can't come out here thinking things are sweet. But it felt good to know we could get the guys out with what's coming (Sunday)."

    Tech schools violate bracket integrity in other sports as well. Scores from the last two years in the state baseball tournament: Bethel 22, Kaylor Tech 2; Avon 10, Platt Tech 0; East Lyme 14, Cheney Tech 1; Barlow 11, Ellis Tech 2; Notre Dame 18, Ellis Tech 0; Bristol Central 16, Platt Tech 0; Woodland 21, Wolcott Tech 0; Watertown 12, Vinal Tech 0; Ellington 10, Abbott Tech 1; St. Joseph 25, Grasso Tech 0.

    Baseball is about three things: pitching, pitching and pitching. And if a high school coach sees he has drawn a tech school in the early rounds, he has the unfair advantage of altering his pitching rotation. He may opt to throw his No. 3 or 4 starter against a tech school, understanding the history of how tech schools can't compete. No such luck for another coach whose program is playing a more legitimate school and must throw his ace.

    Again: The CIAC has an obligation to ensure competitive balance. Until tech schools compete in a different division, nights such as Tuesday will produce:

    A winning coach who doesn't really know what to say or feel.

    A losing team whose last memory on its home field was a 62-0 loss.

    A winning team that got to rest its starters while its semifinal opponent could not.

    All preventable, too.

    So when do you think CIAC will start doing its job?

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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