IT IS, perhaps, the singular biggest complaint pervading the high school football landscape, particularly if you’re that lonely goldfish swimming in a shark tank.
Why don’t Connecticut high school football teams mostly play against schools of their own size?
Following constant complaints on this here space, Why must tiny, little ol’ Class M St. Joseph play a stacked schedule of Class LL teams in the FCIAC while its fellow Class M playoff contenders in the Pequot get to play against fellow pipsqueaks?
Or, to flip that equation, why does Class L Masuk or, even worse, Class LL Newtown or NFA have it so easy playing a wealth of Class M and Class S schools, arguably increasing their chances of reaching their respective playoffs while fellow behemoths must run a gauntlet of like-sized schools?
How is Connecticut’s football organization more like the NCAA than the NHSF? Why is it comprised of increasingly unwieldy leagues and utterly confusing playoff systems and (gasp!) yearly bouts of confounding realignment?Can’t we play football like real football states which organize their schools into regional ‘districts,’ or ‘sections,’ based solely on size with the standings determining the playoff participants rather than some confounding BCS-styled playoff formula?
What if we did?
What if we created districts out of our four classes, and had the winner of each division, and maybe a couple of wildcards, qualify for the state playoffs?
Look no further.
We here at football central already have worked out some hypotheticals for you: We took each of the four class divisions from last year and attempted to group them into six (or, in Class S’s case, seven) districts based almost entirely on geography.
Schools will (more or less) play their neighbors and actually win its regional district to reach the state playoffs.
Simple, right? Problem solved.
Eh, not entirely.
For one, similarly-sized schools are literally all over the map. We discovered either too many schools were bunched into one region (meaning one unlucky school must find another district) or there were one or two schools far off by themselves, with no natural class rivals nearby (meaning their district games will be far, far away).Some districting worked perfectly — The Naugatuck Valley schools or the Shoreline Schools in Class S, for example. But that was rare. Most took some moving around. A solution to creating a decent geographic mix often ripped a another apart.
Sometimes we had to break up a pair of natural, geographic rivals in favor of keeping others. Sometimes we had to search halfway around the state just to complete a “regional” district.
But we pressed on, no matter the absurdity.
We didn’t let our emotions get the best of us. We didn’t care if a district pitted one state power with a bunch of weaker ones, virtually guaranteeing that program would probably win ad infinitum. But we did try to maintain a balance. We also desperately tried to honor rivalries.
We organized like this:
With 36 schools in each class we decided on six schools per district. Class S proved to be trickier since it has 38 schools, so we divvied Class S into four divisions of five schools and three divisions of six (meaning they’ll have to play one extra district game).
Now, the three larger divisions would play five district games each and could fill their schedules by playing one crossover game against the remaining five districts (5 + 5 = 10). Maybe you could create those crossover games based on previous years’ results. Maybe.
We didn’t want to get too wrapped up in trying to figure out a playoff system based on these districts. But we had to have a rough outline, at least.
So here it is: Six district champions qualify for the playoffs. That would leave two spots. Maybe we could introduce a pair of wildcards by plucking the best two overall records from the second-place finishers. Then we could seed the field and off we go.
In Class S, you’d have seven division winners and a wildcard. We did run into a problem on scheduling. There are too many teams and unbalanced districts in Class S to fill everyone’s schedule easily.
Issues like this can topple the whole Jenga stack.
I’m sure it can be done somehow. Maybe we should expand the leagues a bit? Or contract the playoff divisions to three… Or maybe oust the Tech Schools and give them their own tournament… Or maybe oust both the tech schools and the Catholics…
Or maybe this whole thing is dead on the operating table.
This is merely a think piece, a very rough outline thrown together one rainy May afternoon/evening/night. By no means do we actually condone such an massive overhaul.
We’re just having a little offseason fun here.
The idea is to present a rough draft and then let you, dear readers, offer your own tweaks or ideas, as zany as those might be.
You don’t get much zanier than this.
So let’s take a look, shall we?
What would Connecticut football look like if it was organized into class-based districts?
How about this?
CLASS LL SYNOPSIS
This was probably the easiest of the bunch.
New Haven schools were grouped, lower Fairfield County schools were grouped, Danbury region schools were grouped, Waterbury schools were grouped, West Hartford and East of Hartford.
The only real problem that arose was too many LL schools in lower Fairfield County, not enough in Danbury. So we grabbed the Norwalk schools and had them linked by Route 7, the rest along by I-95.
Fairfield Prep (an SCC school) and Trumbull (No Central rivalry, but how ’bout a rivalry with Shelton?) were pushed further east. Hartford County was divided in two.
NFA, being the only LL school far east of the Connecticut River, had to take a suck in this equation. We fit them into the closest league possible, which actually doesn’t look half bad. At least they have Route 2.
CLASS L SYNOPSIS
All of the Class L FCIAC schools formed one district. Done. Poor Platt Tech and Wilby got folded into a regional grouping with Bunnell, Masuk, Stratford and Pomperaug (hey, at least those schools stuck together). New Haven’s Ls fit together perfectly.
The problems arose up north. We wanted Middletown and Meriden together. We also wanted Farmington and Avon together. Torrington really mucked up the works, though, being all out in the middle of nowhere. So we decided to split north-south, with Meriden-Middletown forming the dividing line. We folded Platt/Maloney into a league with Bristol Eastern, T-Town and Avon-Farmington.
The other district, running north-south, encompassed northern Hartford Class Ls with Middletown. Rockville was the odd-man out and was shifted to the Eastern league. But again, at least Route 2 is nearby. East Lyme and Fitch have some traveling to do.
CLASS M SYNOPSIS
Here’s where the system started drifting into crazy land.
We started simply, grouping all six Class M Danbury area schools together and all six ECC Class M schools together.
Then the problems started. The Quiet Corner is Class M Central. There are far too many M schools for one district, so we had to start kicking out some of the fringes to help other leagues.
Poor Enfield. It’s position as the westernmost school of that group forced us to toss it into a Northwestern/Berkshire league with Wolcott, Watertown, Lewis Mills, Wolcott Tech and Gilber/Northwestern.
Same thing happened with East Haven and Vinal/East Hampton, they got sucked into a Wallingford/Berlin-centric league so we could form another around Milford.
St. Joseph, the only Class M school in the FCIAC, and their best friends, Bullard-Havens headed east into a league the three Milford schools and Hillhouse.
CLASS S SYNOPSIS
Outside of creating a true Naugatuck Valley league and a true Shoreline League, dividing Class S was an nightmare.
Plus, there was the 38-school issue. So we decided to break Class S into seven leagues — four 5-divisions, three 6-divisions — to make it a tad easier.
We started with the Naugatuck valley, kicking out St. Paul, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart to make it a 5-team division. We made Shoreline six by adding Coginchaug.
OK, so Holy Cross, St. Paul and Sacred Heart needed to get grouped with northwest schools Housy and Nonnewaug (sorry, guys. Geography) and, to balance it out, we threw Plainville in there since it’s a Bristol neighbor.
Hartford was a mess because there are approximately 800 magnet schools in that town. We tried several combinations, but ultimately decided to keep them together.
Cromwell and Rocky Hill were dumped into that district as leftovers. They were originally part of a ‘Suburban’ Hartford league based around Bloomfield, NWC and East Catholic. Canton and Granby Memorial’s location far north made them the only choice to complete the Suburban league.
Griswold, Plainfield, Stonington and Killingly on the Eastern edge of the state needed one more. So we plucked Stafford seeing how Stafford really isn’t anywhere, either.
Finally, what the heck to do with the far western edge? Trinity, Notre Dame-Fairfield and Immaculate? The perfect alignment of NVL schools mucked this up. In order to keep Ansonia-Seymour-Derby-Oxford-Woodland together, we had to work around them. Thus, poor Hyde Leadership and Whitney Tech got kicked East into what we’re calling ‘Bizzaro’ District.
Eh, could have been worse.
Odessa Permian has to travel 2+ hours just to play district games in Texas. I think we can manage.
So there they are, your imaginary Class Districts.
“But Sean,” you ask. “What happens when a bunch of schools change classes from year-to-year?”
Then stop doing that every year. Maybe make changes every three, four or five years instead. I think that’s how New York does it.
“What if new teams are added? That happens a lot.”
Then just add them and readjust as it arises. I don’t know.
“What about rivalry games between schools of different classes? We’d still like to see Greenwich-New Canaan, Staples-New Canaan, Notre Dame-Hamden, New London-NFA, Central-Harding…”
Easy. Allow a couple of non-district weeks. We’re flexible. Teams don’t necessarily have to crossover to all of the other divisions. After all, you just need to win your division to reach the playoffs. So these games would have no bearing on if you reach the playoffs. (That might actually solve a lot of scheduling issues).
“What about Thanksgiving?”
Maybe we could make that one of the crossover weeks. Purely optional. Since the game wouldn’t count toward playoffs, it would actually allow the state playoffs to begin a week earlier.
Any other questions?