I'll volunteer my time to fix a flawed CIAC playoff system
It wasn't long before tipoff one night last week when Jeff Bernardi and I shared a wry grin. We both bore a "how the mighty have fallen" look at the half-full Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse — the "X" as it's known — which has marked the spot for so many biggies in recent years, especially when it's been Waterford against Bernardi and East Lyme.
To think how the Waterford-East Lyme basketball thing has generated sellout crowds, ticket lines during freshmen games and fans denied entry. Suddenly, this blood rivalry produced a cautionary tale about the rhythms of public schools and their sports programs seen through a more serene setting last Thursday.
Such are the perils of you-get-what-you-get public schools. And as long as the concept of graduation exists, this will keep happening. Graduation begets fluctuating talent levels. Some years fly us to nirvana. Some years plunge us into the abyss. And there is no consistency whatsoever. Public schools are bound by town borders and cannot restock talent with recruiting. (Or trades, free agency or player drafts as we're used to seeing in other sports at different levels.)
All this is offered to illustrate the inherent flaws in the current boys' basketball playoff system. The CIAC's one-size-fits-all mathematical formula does not meet the needs of enough schools because the concept of graduation is the single greatest factor determining talent levels. A championship season one year becomes a rebuild the next. Divisional alignments should reflect that.
Consider what the CIAC has perpetrated on East Lyme and Fitch — and by extension a number of other schools — this season. East Lyme (528 boys) and Fitch (610) are similar sized public schools. Both competed in state Div. III last season. At the conclusion, graduation claimed East Lyme's two leading scorers, Dev Ostrowski and Luke Leonard, who combined for more than 3,000 points in their careers. Fitch, meanwhile, returned five starters to a team that made the ECC semifinals and won a game in the Division III state tournament.
East Lyme, needing to replace two huge pieces, was moved up to the more competitive Div. II. Absurd.
Fitch, with its pieces returning, was moved down to the less competitive Div. IV. Absurd.
Can someone on the boys' basketball committee explain that?
Fitch may not be the ECC's best team, but has the best chance to win a state championship. It is competing against many schools in Div. IV considerably smaller. A look at the other top 10 schools in Div. IV at the moment features Sport Sciences (239 boys), Canton (239), Griswold (270), Nonnewaug (301) and Cromwell (273). Schools half the size of Fitch will play for the same trophy as the Falcons because Fitch was placed in the wrong division. Neither East Lyme nor Fitch should have been moved for obvious reasons.
Divisional placement and alignment must be done by individually examining the state's 180-plus teams on a yearly basis. Clearly, nobody on the existing committee has the interest in doing so, which is why they hide behind their one-size-fits-all formula.
So I'd like to volunteer my time.
I would form a network of coaches, athletic directors, administrators, fans and kids incorporating the state's 12 leagues from Salisbury to Stonington. Their job will be to update me on schools in their local conferences as to how graduation, transfers in, transfers out, injuries, coaching changes and any other relevant factors have affected the offseason. I'll also consult media members for input.
I'll take all the data and place teams in the state's five divisions based on something other than a formula. It would be frustrating, painstaking, maddening and a test of my patience. But ultimately worth it in the name of equity.
I doubt anyone would indulge me here. But after last season's joke of a Div. IV championship game — New Canaan (more than 600 kids) against St. Joseph (school of choice), the same thing may happen this year. It'll keep happening, too, if something other than blind math isn't used.
But I'm here, CIAC.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro