Area coaches approve of CIAC's new football playoff point system
It hasn’t been easy over the years for Fitch and Norwich Free Academy to find football games within the Eastern Connecticut Conference.
The two teams are the largest in a conference where half of the 14 schools are in the CIAC's Class S division. It has forced both programs to look to the Connecticut High School Football Alliance to provide competitive non-league games against schools its size.
Fitch and NFA will be rewarded for playing winning programs this fall because the CIAC football committee added a new metric to its playoff point system for 2021. Teams will receive five bonus points for each win earned by an opponent “regardless of the outcome of the game played against each opponent.”
The Central Connecticut Conference, Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference, Southern Connecticut Conference, South-West Conference and ECC comprise the Alliance.
“We think the Alliance is a good thing for scheduling quality games and rewards teams for playing good teams,” CIAC Football Committee Chair Leroy Williams said. “That’s what we want.”
Teams previously received 10 “bonus points” for each victory earned by an opponent it beat. Teams will continue earning that bonus.
NFA has the state's eighth largest male enrollment (982) and will play four Alliance games, the most of any ECC team. It opens the season at Xavier (Sept. 10), hosts perennial Class LL powerhouses Darien (Oct. 1) and Shelton (Oct. 22), and visits Cheshire (Oct. 29), which was a 2019 Class LL quarterfinalist.
Should the Wildcats lose to the likes of Darien, they'll still be rewarded thanks to the new metric.
“At our youth camp, we talked to the kids and coaches and parents and said that the best thing we did at NFA, in my opinion, was going to a more competitive schedule,” Wildcats head coach Jason Bakoulis said. “We have learned so much as a program as coaches and players. There are so many advancements that we’ve made and it’s the result of playing the best competition we can possibly play.
“When you have to travel and play a Darien down there, there’s little things you learn about what they’re doing and see. Whether it’s their warmups, whether it’s their pregame approach, there’s always something you can take away.”
Fitch is one of the ECC's four Class L programs with 579 boys. It will host New Fairfield (Oct. 8, a 2019 Class M quarterfinalist) and Stratford (Oct. 29), and travel to Fairfield Prep (Oct. 22). Prep is a LL school and consistent winner.
"I think it's a step in the right direction," Falcons head coach Mike Ellis said about the new five-point bonus. "We've got to play at Fairfield Prep. We know that in order to beat that team, you've got to be pretty darn good. Obviously, they have a lot of boys (743). They're in a good conference down there (the SCC).
"(The five point bonus) gives an incentive to some teams to go (and play a better schedule). It's okay to schedule some of these larger schools because if you win, you're really getting a bonus and if you don't win, you're still getting points off of the deal."
There were voices within the football community who called for change to the playoff point system after the 2019 season. It had the most controversial seeding of the decade when NFA earned the eighth seed in Class LL ahead of Shelton.
NFA and the Gaels both finished 7-3, but Shelton beat the Wildcats, 41-20.
Shelton also downed the other two teams that beat NFA — West Haven (21-13) and Fairfield Prep (49-19).
The Gaels also played a much tougher schedule than the Wildcats. Their losses were to unbeaten Class LL champion Newtown (34-24), Class L finalist Hand (21-14) and Class LL quarterfinalist Cheshire (24-12).
NFA, however, finished 120 points ahead of Shelton in the rankings for a few reasons.
The first was that NFA’s opponents combined to win more games. Glastonbury (3-7) and New London (4-6) were the only two losing teams on its schedule.
Shelton, on the other hand, had wins over three two-win teams — West Haven, East Hartford and Derby.
Derby sunk Shelton’s point total even further because it’s was a Class S school with a 2-8 record. The two schools have one of the state’s oldest rivalries (109 years). They were members of the now-defunct Housatonic League and were among the schools that joined the Southern Connecticut Conference when it was formed in 1994.
Derby left the SCC in 2009 and joined the Naugatuck Valley League.
A team earns 100 points just for beating a league foe, regardless of its state classification. Now that Derby and Shelton are in different leagues, the Gaels no longer gets those 100 points for beating the Red Raiders. They instead earn 70 points for beating a non-league team that's three divisions lower.
Shelton, then, earned a meager 90 points for beating Derby in 2019 (35-0), its 17th straight win in the series — 70 points for the win and 20 points in bonuses for Derby's two wins.
The new five-point bonus isn't a cure all. It wouldn’t have changed any of the participants in the 2019 playoffs but would've reseeded a few of them in both Class LL (the most notable which would be nine-win Southington being the top-seed instead of unbeaten Newtown) and Class M. The Wildcats would’ve still finished eighth in the LL rankings and Shelton ninth, too.
Playing in a better league doesn't necessarily mean a team playing a tough schedule would qualify ahead of team playing a weaker schedule.
Example — the state’s technical schools don't play regular-season games outside the Connecticut Technical Conference. None of its programs have and ever won a playoff game, either.
It’s possible, however, that a tech school with a loss or two still earns a playoff berth because it lost to teams that finished 10-0 or 9-1 within league play.
There are, however, four instances last decade in which a team that failed to make the playoffs would’ve qualified as the eighth seed had they received the new five-point bonus. Two of those instances involved local teams.
Plainfield edged the Valley Regional/Old Lyme co-op for the final berth in the 2018 Class S tournament. Using the new metric, the two would have swapped positions, giving Valley/OL the bid.
Montville (8-2) was the eighth seed in the 2012 Class M tournament and earned 50 more points than No. 10 Ledyard.
Ledyard beat Montville head-to-head (26-21) but played a tougher schedule and finished 7-3. The Colonels would have earned final bid under if the new metric was in place.
"I'm interested to see the impact that (the five-point bonus) has this year," Ellis said. "Is it enough where a 7-3 team could possibly overtake an 8-2 team because they played a tougher schedule?
"We're going to have to see how that plays out, but I do think it's a step in the right direction, and hopefully what will happen is that if something like that occurs, it will alleviate the scheduling issues that we have right now."
PLANTING NEW SEEDS
Final seedings for the 2019 CIAC Class LL and M football playoffs would've been different had teams received five points for a win by any of its opponent regardless of the outcome of their game, a new metric that will bu used in 2021
1. Southington (9-1, was seeded second)
2. Newtown (10-0, was seeded first)
3. Darien (9-1)
4. Cheshire (8-2, was seeded fifth)
5. Simsbury (9-1, was seeded fourth)
6. Ridgefield (8-2, was seeded seventh)
7. Greenwich (9-1, was seeded sixth)
8. NFA (7-3)
1. Rockville (10-0)
2. Waterford (9-1)
3. ATI (9-1, was seeded fourth)
4. Weston (9-1, was seeded fifth)
5. Killingly (9-1, was seeded third)
6. Granby/Canton (8-2, was seventh)
7. New Fairfield (8-2, was sixth)
8. SMSA/University/Classical (8-2)
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