(As written in the Valley Press and West Hartford Press, Jan. 20 editions)
In its persistence to attain competitive balance, the Central Connecticut Conference football committee unveiled its second divisional realignment in four years with the expectation that this one will better stand the test of time.
The 32-member CCC will switch from four eight-team divisions to six divisions – four with five teams and two with six – mirroring the philosophy of how the CIAC defines the state playoffs and ostensibly putting an end to the mismatches that dotted the schedule the last two seasons.
The divisional alterations were contrived by a committee headed by Newington High School principal Jim Wenker. They were approved at a special meeting of the CCC’s policy board at Newington High on Jan. 7.
“Two years ago when the league expanded from 24 to 32 schools, that created some different dynamics,” Wenker said. “We got spread out between school sizes.”
The league went to a CCC North, or a large-school division, in 2004 amid the multitude of complaints from having to play Jack Cochran’s New Britain teams and Southington.
With the demise of the Northwest Conference/Nutmeg League in 2008 came amalgamation. Smaller schools like Northwest Catholic, East Catholic, Plainville, Berlin, Rocky Hill and Middletown swelled the CCC ranks to 32. The CCC has continued to examine ways of improving competitive balance.
“We had a significant number of smaller schools enter and we need to bring balance and equity,” Wenker said. “At the time, it made sense to go to a four-division configuration. We wanted competitive balance to be part of the process. We came up with a formula that made sense, taking into account school size and the strength of the program. We did that for the last two years but what we discovered is a number of inequities surfaced.”
The issue centered on the conference’s Class L schools.
Division I, which essentially replaced the CCC North as the large-school circuit, contained seven Class LL schools and Class L Windsor. Division II was split between the four remaining ‘LL’ schools and the three largest ‘L’ schools. Only one ‘L’ school – Bristol Eastern – was in Division III and six were in Division IV.
Some of the interdivisional crossover games determined by a formula based on team records over the previous two seasons created anxiety. Northwest Catholic, the smallest ‘S’ school with 307 boys, played the second largest ‘LL’ school in Glastonbury (1,076 boys) last fall. The Indians faced New Britain (the state’s largest school with 1,481 boys) in 2009. Such lopsided matchups cannot occur under the new arrangement.
“They were causes for concern among coaches, athletic directors and principals, not only based on balance and equity but on safety,” Wenker said. “The prevailing thought was we needed to match up schools by boys enrollment. That’s predominantly how it’s done at other conferences around the state and that’s how the CIAC does it [in the postseason] so it seemed fair and equitable for us to do it.”
Prior to the 2010 season, the CIAC football committee changed the postseason format from a two-tiered system with six divisions to a three-game tournament featuring eight teams in the four traditional divisions. It abandoned the ‘SS’ and ‘MM’ divisions that were established in 1981, increasing participation rate from 24 to 32 schools.
Under the CCC’s previous arrangement, an ‘L’ school in Division II potentially could have played four ‘LL’ schools within its division and two more crossing over with Division I, Wenker noted. An ‘L’ school in Division III potentially could escape having to play any ‘LL’ schools at all.
Northwest will compete in the Division III West with the four other ‘S’ schools in the league. The Indians will play those four and the five teams in the Division III East, four of them in Class M and one in Class L.
Where there were multiple crossovers last year, this year there is one – Bristol Eastern. For many schools, the crossover game winds up being the Thanksgiving rivalry. For example, Plainville (Div. III East) plays Farmington (Div. II West) by its own choice. The same for Berlin (Div. III East) choosing to meet New Britain (Div. I West).
“We have an agreement with Rocky Hill for a Thanksgiving game,” Northwest athletic director Josh Reese said. “Because Rocky Hill is within our division, we had to look outside and [Bristol Eastern] was the only one that fit.”
Reducing the crossovers thus simplified the schedule.
“Before we had multiple crossovers and that’s why we had mismatches,” Wenker said. “We’ve minimized that.”
Wenker said the committee looked at a three-division format then chose to create the subdivisions based on geography.
The teams in each subdivision are ranked by win-loss percentage over the previous two seasons to determine crossover foes for those not dictated by Thanksgiving week rivalries. Conard and Hall, for example, would play each other anyway because they’re in the same division. The formula pits Conard against RHAM-Hebron and Hall against Simsbury in 2011 crossovers.
The new alignment will run for at least two seasons ‘to ensure home-and-home relationships,” Wenker said. “We will revisit it if they ask us to, if the majority of the conference feels this configuration isn’t what we need.”
Wenker, however, said that the new alignment was accepted by the “vast majority” of administrators who considered the proposal.
“We feel as though this is our best chance going forward,” he said.