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ECC will be an all-Eastern Connecticut football conference in 2021

The Eastern Connecticut Conference will once again have a new divisional alignment for football this fall — and an all-Eastern Connecticut look.

The ECC will have 14 football teams spread out over three divisions in 2021 after the Capital Region Education Council co-op opted to exit and join the Pequot Football League.

CREC is comprised of Civic Leadership (Enfield), Aerospace (Windsor) and Metro Learning (Bloomfield). It joined the ECC as a football-only program in 2019 and played in Division III.

The ECC was scheduled to expand to 16 schools and four divisions in 2020 with CREC and Capital Prep in Division IV.

"Capital Prep just wasn’t a fit for us anymore," said Jim Buonocore, Ledyard's assistant principal/athletic director who handles the ECC's football scheduling. "Our whole intent when we brought in Capital was to have an even amount of football schools, and there was a natural match-up with CREC. ... We indicated to Capital that we were moving on with 14 full-time ECC football playing schools for 2021.

"Going to 4-5-5 made more sense to us."

The CIAC canceled its 2020 fall football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It left the door open for an abbreviated season in March.

The ECC used CIAC boys' enrollment figures as a guide to determine placement within its three divisions.

East Lyme, Fitch, New London and Norwich Free Academy will make up Division I.

Bacon Academy, Ledyard, Waterford, Windham and Woodstock Academy are in Division II.

Division III consists of Griswold, Killingly, Montville, Plainfield and Stonington.

Killingly, Stonington and Windham are the only three teams that changed divisions from 2019. Killingly played in Division I and advanced to the CIAC Class M final.

Killingly's enrollment would've placed it in Class S in 2020, but it was pushed up to Class M based due to its previous success in the state tournament and as a school-of-choice.

Stonington played a Division II schedule in 2019 and Windham was in Division III.

The 2021 ECC schedule hasn't been approved, but will be discussed at a league advisory board meeting this week (fall scheduling is on the agenda).

Buonocore said the proposal is for Division I teams to play two Division II crossovers and one against a Division III team. Some D-I teams might get an extra game with teams from the lower two divisions because they have more teams. The CIAC allows teams to play up to 10 regular-season games and requires programs to play a minimum of eight to be eligible for the playoffs.

"Outside of Division I, Woodstock (Class L) and Waterford (Class M), everybody else is Class S (in enrollment)," Buonocore said. "Division III does have to crossover to Division I (within the ECC) but having a strong program like Killingly in Division III gives you a really good option to provide NFA with a pretty good game.

"That was also a positive when you look at Killingly because it’s a very strong Division III team. It makes the league better because it provides a maximum number of games for everybody (based on crossovers) and that hasn't always been the case for us."

ECC schools also have the option of using the Connecticut High School Football Alliance to fill out its schedules.

The Southern Connecticut Conference, South-West Conference and ECC formed the Alliance in 2017 to help with scheduling. All three leagues have schools of varying sizes, and each had programs that didn't want to play the larger and/or more successful programs.

The Central Connecticut Conference and Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference joined the Alliance in 2019. The Connecticut Technical Conference, Naugatuck Valley League and Pequot League are the state's only leagues that don't take part.

NFA has had the most difficulty getting games within the ECC because of its size. The Wildcats are the only Class LL school in the conference and have the CIAC's sixth-highest boys' enrollment for the 2020-21 school year.

NFA played four interconference games from 2016-18, five in 2019 and was scheduled to play four in 2020 before the pandemic canceled the fall season.

Buonocore said that all but one ECC team has agreed to play at least one Alliance game in 2021. He added that there may not be enough crossover games to go around depending on the participation of other conferences, so some ECC teams may play a league opponent not on their approved schedule that will be considered an Alliance contest.

The Alliance met last week to discuss scheduling for 2021.

"I think we're going to move the 2020 schedule to 2021," said SCC commissioner Al Carbone. "There might be a couple of tweaks with some matchups, but nothing big. We're looking forward to keep it going."

Nothing is ever perfect, and, in the case of the Alliance, there's been grumbling about travel. The Alliance stretched from as far southwest as New Milford, across the northeast to Killingly, and as far southeast as Fitch in 2019.

Fitch was scheduled to make the longest trip among ECC schools last fall at Fairfield Prep (152 miles round trip) from the SCC. Fitch was also scheduled to play at Tolland from the CCC.

"The nice thing about it is we don't have to go all over and canvass the state ourselves to find games," Fitch coach Mike Ellis said about the Alliance last February. "I told (my) other coaches and our kids, 'If we're ever going to make a run at states, these are the teams we've got to beat.' If we don't beat them, we don't deserve to be (in the playoffs)."

NFA was scheduled to play at Cheshire and Wilbur Cross in 2020.

"The kids don't mind (traveling) if it's a competitive game," Carbone said. "They put their headphones on (while on the bus) and get excited to play somebody they've never played before and a team like them (in size).

"When you get to the state playoffs on a Tuesday night, I don't hear any complaints that (say) NFA has to travel to Greenwich."

n.griffen@theday.com

ECC FOOTBALL

Following is the ECC's proposed football divisional realignment for the 2021 fall season (the league used latest CIAC boys' enrollment numbers for the 2020-21 academic year as guide to determine divisions): 

DIVISION I

East Lyme, Fitch, New London, NFA

DIVISION II

Bacon Academy, Ledyard, Waterford, Windham, Woodstock Academy

DIVISION III

Griswold, Killingly, Montville, Plainfield, Stonington

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