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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    CT HS Football Alliance: What are the NVL and Pequot scared of?

    Fact: All six state high school football champions from 2023 and the top 16 teams in the final state polls participated in the Connecticut High School Alliance, a confluence of five conferences throughout the state aimed to schedule regular season games against non-traditional opponents of similar size and success.

    Since 2019, the preponderance of state championship teams (15) have come from the alliance, which incorporates the ECC, CCC, FCIAC, SCC and SWC. There are also many non-playoff schools throughout the state appreciative of the Alliance’s ability to schedule like-minded and like-sized programs, creating more competitive games than the lopsided tendencies of traditional league games ruled by geographic proximity.

    The alliance, for example, gave Bacon Academy and Montville (both 1-9 a year ago and two programs that went more than 1,000 days from 2019 and 2022 between victories) to open their 2023 seasons with programs also finding their way. Bacon defeated Bethel (0-10 a year ago) 21-0 and Montville defeated Lewis Mills (1-9 a year ago) 26-6.

    “It was a good opponent to play for us,” Bacon coach Bill Chaffin said at the time. “It allows us to play not only different competition, but competition that is right for us at the moment. I appreciate their work.”

    Montville coach Tanner Grove: “The alliance scheduling is a very good thing for the development of Connecticut high school football. The game is constantly evolving and scheduling games of like-sized, and competitively similar programs is key to the overall improvement of the game as a whole.”

    The previous five paragraphs are ample evidence that the alliance works. There is no task assigned to a governing body more important than assimilating the concept of equity into its programs and guidelines. Equity: The practice of accounting for the differences in each individual’s starting point in pursuit of a goal or achievement — and working to remove barriers to equal opportunity.

    All of which calls into question why there are still two leagues in Connecticut — the Naugatuck Valley League and the Pequot Conference — whose officials recently told the Alliance that they still choose not to participate and deny the Alliance more games to offer.

    “The Alliance has been successful because of the ability to work together,” said Al Carbone, the commissioner of the Southern Connecticut Conference, who works on behalf of the SCC in the Alliance with Ledyard assistant principal/athletic director Jim Buonocore (ECC), Dave Schultz (FCIAC), Mark Berkowitz (SWC) and Trish Witkin (CCC).

    “In fact,” Carbone said, “the playoff point proposal passed a few years ago (guaranteeing a certain number of playoff points in all Alliance games even if a school loses the game) has only enhanced our Alliance scheduling. It gives teams the confidence that getting matched up with a competitive opponent is a good thing and you get rewarded for it. That’s why it remains frustrating that the Pequot and NVL are not with us.”

    I asked representatives from both leagues why they’ve declined participation. NVL commissioner (and Naugatuck High athletic director) Brian Mariano responded. Pequot Conference president Todd Petronio, the athletic director at Coginchaug, did not.

    “Two years ago we restructured our schedule to be power based (excluding Thanksgiving),” Mariano wrote in an email. “This has proven to be successful for our league and we have placed several teams in the state playoffs since moving to this structure. We are currently in the middle of a two year scheduling cycle. We are happy with our schedule at the moment. We have some schools interested in picking up an out of league game but we haven't figured out what that looks like for our league just yet.”

    Mariano’s candor is appreciated. But his league’s self-absorption is not. Ditto for the Pequot. Both leagues could provide more schools throughout the state — as well as themselves — with competitive games among like-minded schools that has clearly benefited everyone involved.

    "It is certainly not for a lack of effort or reaching out on our end to NVL and the Pequot,” Buonocore said. “I have reached out annually to their league leadership. From our end, the more teams we have participating, the better matchups we can continue to create throughout the state.

    “We did believe we had the NVL coming in for one game this fall, but prior to our scheduling meeting they told us they would not be participating. I had provided some early alliance matchups based on feedback they had provided us. For example, Amity would play Seymour, Ansonia would have played Shelton, St. Paul would have played Lewis Mills, amongst other games that made sense competitively and geographically.”

    Honestly: Ansonia, for all its bloviating, ducks Shelton and continues to inhale Derby every year? This is what Mariano says “is successful for our league?”

    The refusal of both leagues to participate in the greater good ought to have ramifications. To wit: Those of us who vote in the weekly media poll should think seriously about avoiding NVL and Pequot schools. Because how do we really know how good they are if they’re merely playing each other? Alliance schools play games across conferences and divisions that provide much more information and context.

    It appears Alliance officials are going to wave the flag with more verve, too.

    “Do we still keep advocating the success of the Alliance? Yes, we will and even more,” Carbone said. “The SCC and ECC have submitted a proposal to the CIAC Football Committee to place more value in these Alliance games regardless of whether you win or lose. This is an important reward for the teams who play Alliance games and for those who schedule them.”

    Buonocore: “Any high school football league in Connecticut saying it can provide a fair and equitable schedule from weeks 1-10 is not looking deep enough. I think they are doing their schools and kids a disservice. Every league in our state could benefit from the alliance.”

    Indeed. Time for the NVL and the Pequot to awaken. Life exists outside your bubble.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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