Viewpoint: 8 football champions too many for Connecticut

Late next month, the powers that be at CIAC headquarters will hand us a revised format for next year’s state football playoffs. The four-class, 32-team, three-round setup will be replaced with a system that’s promised to alleviate concerns over player safety.

After teams like Ansonia played 15 times in 13 weeks, with five of those crammed into the season’s final 23 days, the football committee agreed recently to boot the quarterfinals from next year’s playoffs. But wait, there’s more.

The committee is adamant about keeping the field at 32 teams to fill out its two-round format. Signs strongly suggest the postseason will grow to eight divisions for 2014. Yes, eight. You read that correctly.

Let’s be honest, in a state the size of Connecticut, which fielded 148 teams last fall, that’s excessive. Does the CIAC honestly believe it can produce eight worthy state champions?

The rumored increase has raised eyebrows among many coaches, especially when you consider the landscape. Newtown coach Steve George brought up a common concern recently, noting, “You’re giving out as many state championships as there are conferences.”

On the other hand, George concurs with the committee’s decision to cut down the number of games played. Newtown, the SWC champion, played its last three games over just 12 days. And, if not for a loss in the state quarterfinals — played the Tuesday after Thanksgiving football — the Nighthawks would’ve had their semifinal on Saturday, just four days later.

“It was pretty unsafe at that point, ” George said.

And I agree. Safety is a main concern, as it should be. You know darn well that football’s a physically brutal game, and it’s unwise to play so many games in so few days. But why must the state playoffs be diluted in the process?

If you do the math, 21 percent of the state’s teams qualify for the postseason. By comparison, in a larger state like Ohio, 31 percent (224 of 714) of the teams reach the playoffs. But, those teams are spread across seven divisions with teams playing up to 15 games between a 10-game regular season and five-round playoff.

In Rhode Island, 20 teams made the postseason this year across four divisions (eight in one division; four each in the others). Teams played up to 13 games.

I get it. It’s impossible to please everybody. The old system — in place since 2010 after expansion from six four-team divisions — has its collection of fans. But, upon a strong recommendation by the Connecticut State Medical Society, the system is no more.

“We worked hard to get the quarterfinal game as part of the structure for football playoffs, ” said Paul Hoey, associate executive director of the CIAC. “We’re realizing that the present schedule does not meet the health and safety needs of kids given the date that it’s available.”

That’s fine. I’m all for not playing the quarterfinals. As it was with the outgoing format, competition was sometimes spread too thin. Of the 16 opening-round games played across four divisions this past fall, only four were decided by 10 points or fewer. And if you want to look further, only one other game was decided by fewer than 25 points. That’s 11 games — 68 percent of the quarterfinals — decided by more than three scores.

History shows that top-four seeds have fared quite well in the four years of the eight-team brackets. Only one team seeded lower than fourth (No. 8 Hillhouse in 2010 Class M) won a state title. Six other teams seeded Nos. 5-8 have lost in the final.

Some coaches are worried that by expanding to eight four-team divisions, plenty of good teams with stronger schedules are going to be left out.

“The system’s got to be fixed to get the better teams in, ” said St. Joseph coach Joe DellaVecchia, whose team won Class M as a two-seed this fall. “It doesn’t take anything into account with schedules played.”

It doesn’t, and it’s easy to understand any coach’s concern regarding strength of schedule. If you play up and fare extremely well, you should be rewarded. But, watering down the field with eight divisions isn’t the answer, either.

So, what’s the solution? Here’s a hint: It’s not eliminating Thanksgiving football.

Perhaps Ansonia coach Tom Brockett put it best when he said, “It would be a complete shame for generations and generations of football fans” to eliminate Thanksgiving rivalries.

New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, a critic of an eight-division format, doesn’t want to shake that tradition either.

“Those games have gotten so big, and now the administrations don’t want to give up that money for Thanksgiving Day, ” added Marinelli, one of the coaches on the 25-member committee. “It’s gotten so big. I think communities rally around it.”

Why not eliminate conference championship games — the NVL did, leaving only the FCIAC and SWC with their own final — and play an 11-game schedule that concludes on Thanksgiving? Then, reward the best teams by introducing a four-division, four-team format. Yes, 16 teams. If there’s a way to factor in strength of schedule, I’m all for it.

I get it, you can probably find faults in this system as well. So, then try to find me the perfect format. The CIAC can’t seem to.

13 Responses

  1. cthsfbfan says:

    Here’s my solution:
    4 Classes. 16 Teams. 4 Champs.

    Take another 24 teams (spread over 4 classes – but not obsessed with class) and create BOWL BONANZA. One day/night at fields all over the state, teams get to play one last game against an opponent of like-caliber. Now, 40 teams get to play past Thanksgiving (even more than the state has now). This would allow teams that don’t make the playoffs to show their goods against other solid squads in the state. The CIAC would make some gate money. It would allow teams to play someone outside of their conference. And it would maintain the integrity of the CT playoffs by not having 8 champions! It would also probably create some incredible matchups – unlike what we see in the 49-0 blowouts in round one of the playoffs now. It’s not perfect…but what do you think???

  2. GHS Fan says:

    Thanks for this article!
    I personally disagree with the “Connecticut State Medical Society” whoever THEY are, and their assertion that the additional games are “unsafe”. Exactly how many additional serious injuries have occurred as a result of the additional quarter-final game?
    We get it. Football is a dangerous game. But if you piece by piece outlaw everything dangerous in life, sooner or later you will have to cut down every tree in Connecticut because some kid might climb it and fall out. (Anyone track the number of tree-related injuries that occurred as a result of the re-forestation of Connecticut after the agrarian economy moved west? No? How irresponsible of the “Connecticut State Medical Society”!!!!)
    No, the watering down of most people’s favorite past-time (sorry baseball (yawn)) does nothing for society, nothing for Connecticut, and nothing for high school kids.

    Why don’t these jokers just extend the games into December by another few days? Yeah, we got a little snow this year. We may get a little snow next year. So what? We are from CONNECTICUT dammit, and we LAUGH at the elements (after we take our ibuprofen with a little brandy.)

  3. JB says:

    I am on Doug’s side … 4 divisions with 4 playoff teams seeded by the CalPrep (schedule adjusted) computer ranking. Also, require intra-league crossover games with well-matched competition … two games mandated, Week 1 and week 6. So teams like Newtown or Hall this year would in the future need to play (and beat) teams like Xavier and Greenwich each year in crossover challenges to make the playoffs.

  4. knows fciac says:

    not a great idea.4 champs is enough.we don’t have 500 teams playing hs football. winning a state title should mean something.

  5. John Romann says:

    They need to just start the season sooner… Mid to late Sept Kickoffs are silly. Allow camp to start 8/1 or whatever date necessary and have Labor day weekend kick off the season. The rest should be able to sort itself out.

  6. GHS Fan says:

    That’s it???? 4 lousy comments is all we can muster to protest this crime against football? Oh well, more proof that you get what you deserve in a democracy.
    Next year when some team wins the Southern Small School bracket (or whatever idiotic bracket system that these monkeys set up) and is therefore the “true” number 1, the only people that have any right to say anything are me, cthsfbfann, JB and knows fciac.
    Nobody else bothered to show up.

  7. PBL says:

    The problem is the traditional thanksgiving day games is what throws a wrench into why it’s so screwed up.I understand the importance of the game to the kids but the underlying factor is “Big Money” from thanksgiving.It seems most of the top programs do not want to do away with the thanksgiving night/day games.So until that is dealt with we will be stuck with a half ass playoff system complaining about fall & winter sport over lap if a season is hampered by weather.No matter how you look at it playing a week earlier or later doesn’t matter that Wed/Thurs game (Thanksgiving)is the problem…

  8. seth says:

    this is a disgrace. football is a tough sport played by tough people, if you dont like it dont let your kids play or dont watch the games. i am all about safety but this is a damn disgrace. all they have to do is one of 2 things. a private school champ, tech school champ and 2 public school champs. or just extend the season or start it earlier. i know thanksgiving is popular but if that has to go to get this pitiful playoff system out of here then so be it. joke joke joke joke joke pathetic pathetic pathetic

  9. John Romann says:

    There needs to be alternative situations explored. 8 Champions is ridiculous and will for sure leave teams on the outside looking in who are deserving. Why not start the season earlier, decide the playoffs brackets early with the first round starting on the saturday post thanksgiving with a week in between each round. Ample time for preparation and rest for all teams.
    Those teams who do not qualify can decide their thanksgiving games at the same time with others who do not qualify from the conference or area.

    Absolutely no reason a state as small at CT should have more champs than TX and as many as FL.

  10. PBL says:

    Unfortunately in this state Thanksgiving games are more important then having a correct play off system. I agree with doing away with the Thanksgiving day games for the teams who already qualify. However, sometimes those Thanksgiving games (Last regular season game) can determine if a team makes the playoffs.I think the different Classes should be dropped once the teams make the playoffs.Have a bracket form with no classes.Takes the top 2 teams from each class(2-LL, 2-l, 2-M, & 2-S) but them in the bracket & let have it.The winner is top dog in the state.Maybe a system like this would sweeten the pot for the top programs every year to eliminate those Thanksgiving games seeing there could be even a bigger draw with big match ups in the state bracket playoff system.Let the Tech programs have have their fun with a separate division or make them play out of conference tougher schedules.I look at it this way Ansonia has not had a real challenge in Class S & when they moved up a few years back to Class M St. Joe’s blew them out in the finals.

  11. knows fciac says:

    read my comment under ciac fnalizes32-team, etc.. i think it makes sense but does take away some money games . however, the money would be made -up with a playoff sysyem played at the right facilities at the right time. not at night the second week in dec. or something like that.

  12. THE RAY BROWN says:

    The CIAC is the most incompetent board in high school sports any where.Every other year theres a new format.A lot of people making money and theyre incompetent as hell.

  13. GHS Grandpa says:

    I’m down in South Florida right now, and the high school teams here have already played three games that count…CT teams just played their first game…Is it too hard to start the season earlier in CT?…4 classes = 4 champions, not 8…