Saturday, April 27, 2013


I have heard and generally agreed with the undercurrent of protests asserted by public high school coaches and fans about what they perceive as the unfair advantages that “schools without borders” possess, primarily in basketball.
For the purpose of simplifying that statement without accusing anyone of unethical practices, we’re talking about the decades-old concept of parochial schools, and more recently magnet schools, luring students based on athletic merit.
It’s like the old ethnic jokes once deemed funny but now relegated to back alleys. The words are uttered in bar rooms, at water coolers, at dinner tables and in the grandstands at scholastic games, but rarely in a public forum. Many are tired of Xavier-Middletown dominating football, Fairfield Prep controlling Division I hockey and a significant number of these schools tilting the basketball floor, so they vent … off the record.
The CIAC reacted from in 2006-07 when the CIAC Boys Basketball Committee and tournament director Bob Cecchini developed an enrollment-based format accented by a “plus factor” to add some balance.
To implement a point system that would determine in which class (S through LL) a tournament-bound team would compete, institutions deemed “schools of choice” by the state (with the exception of schools commonly defined as tech schools) automatically had their “enrollment” number doubled.
All member schools would then be assessed additional numbers based on their tournament success over the previous four seasons. “Bonus” points would be added on the following basis: 10 for each semifinal appearance, 25 each time a team reached the final, 50 for winning championships.
Using the 2012-13 boys basketball tournament as an example, schools with less than 372 male students (using criteria from the previous school year) were slotted in Class S. Those between 372-505 were grouped in Class M. Class L contained schools with male populations between 506 and 711, while Class LL was reserved for those above 711.
St. Joseph-Trumbull, despite having 438 male students, was shifted from Class M to LL. First, the 438 was doubled to 876, then 180 bonus points were tacked on because the Cadets in the previous four years had made it to the semifinals three times (30 points), finals twice (50) and won two titles (100). Thus, the recruiting penalty (if I’m permitted to use that term) gave St. Joseph a sum of 1,056, placing it in the same stratosphere with much larger cross-town rival Trumbull (enrollment of 1,062).
The CIAC said some schools feel the procedure falls short of achieving its goal.
Now, a change to the system is on the horizon that would presumably help further balance CIAC postseason tournament fields, and since there are rumblings coming from committee members in other sports (read girls soccer), the proposed formula would be feasible across the spectrum of team sports.
The CIAC Board of Control on Thursday approved a proposal from a Board sub-committee for the utilization of a simpler formula.
Any team from a “school without borders” that has advanced to the quarterfinals or beyond in each of the previous three seasons would be bumped up two divisions. Those that have advanced the quarterfinals or beyond in two of the past three seasons would be bumped up one division. Those that have advanced to the quarters or beyond just once over the last three years would not be subject to change.
The proposal will be debated at the committee level before it becomes official practice. The new system could be implemented as soon as 2013-14.
“We’re taking it to both basketball committees,” Cecchini said. “If they go with it, we’ll go with it.”
The following is an example of how last March’s tournament structure could have been configured differently had the new system been in place:
The Capital Prep boys basketball team made it to the quarterfinals or beyond in 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12. Under the proposed system, the Trailblazers would have had to compete in Class L this past year. Under the current system, even the factor of doubling the school’s male population (71) and adding the points for tournament success kept Capital Prep well within Class S.
Hartford-based Classical Magnet (160 boys) advanced to the quarters or beyond in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but did not in 2009-10. Thus, the Gladiators would have been forced up to ‘M’ in the most recent tournament instead of competing in Class S.
Initially, no school would move up three divisions, but the possibility exists that a Class S school could eventually be forced into ‘LL’ if it keeps winning. If/when the three-year evaluation indicates the team is no longer winning at the same rate, it would be dropped back down.
The level of dissatisfaction almost surely boiled over because of winter doings at Capital Prep.
I am not privy to what goes on there, but to field championship-caliber basketball teams when your boys number 71 and your girls enrollment sits at 121 is not apt to happen by chance. To make matters worse, the coaching staff of the girls team evidently took particular delight in burying its foes.
If you think what controversial football coach Jack Cochran did in terms of score management was something less than ethical, consider the numbers for which Trailblazer coach Tammy Millsaps was responsible.
In going 18-0 against state competition, the Capital Preparatory Magnet School won its games by an average of 46.1 points per game. No typo there, that’s forty-six point one.
They humiliated their overmatched foes in the Constitution State Conference (largely tech schools) by 44 points per game, and then really turned it up in the Class S tournament. If you’re not sitting, please do so in case you get light-headed as your mind processes these scores:
CP “edged” Old Saybrook in the first round, 79-21. They must have really had it in for Valley Regional (100-27) in the quarterfinals. Fourth-seeded Morgan was a 94-36 victim in the semifinals and No. 3 Thomaston lost 84-55 in the final.
The problems there are multifold. My first reaction is that the word “integrity” must be considered profane at CP. My second is, I’m relatively certain the people behind that embarrassing display were operating within the framework of regulations.
Next, the CSC admitting a shark like Capital Prep to traverse the same waters as innocuous minnows like Parish Hill (serving Chaplin, CT), Putnam and the state’s vo-tech schools is either a humongous oversight or downright cruelty. Losing by 45 points can’t be doing the young female athletes at those girls much good.
If the girls hoop committee enacts the new system, Capital Prep will play in Class L next year. That “punishment” doesn’t come close to fitting the crime, but it will have to do for starters.
When the plans for magnet schools were taking root during the legislation of the Sheff v. O’Neill education lawsuit, I knew their presence in Hartford would undermine proud, longstanding sports traditions at Weaver, Hartford Public and Bulkeley. What I did not consider is that it could someday undermine the entire state.
Let’s hope both boys and girls committee members will accept the new system for the good of Connecticut scholastic basketball. Let’s also hope that the CIAC can continue to develop measures to further effect balance, but I’m not sure a separate tournament for schools without borders is feasible at any time in the near future.