Connecticut’s high school football schedule for 2015 is like nothing you’re ever seen.
It’s shorter, and it’s full of holes. By design.
Over the years, schedules have been shrunk many times by outside forces — as in 1955 (floods), 1968 (flu), 2001 (the 9/11 terrorist attacks) and 2011 (October snow). Schedules been stretched close to the breaking point, as in 2013, when snow delayed the last playoff final until six days before Christmas.
But this year’s configuration was planned. After 2013, when several finalists were dragging bruised bodies into their 14th or 15th games, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference told its football committee to make the season shorter and safer. Trimming the playoffs from three rounds to two last year was a stopgap remedy.
This year offers what may become a blueprint for the future. The season – Friday through Dec. 12 – covers 14 weekends, during which a team may play no more than 13 games, including three rounds of state playoffs. Each team has a mandatory two bye weekends. The playoffs, though bunched together in December, are arranged so a team is to have four practice days, with full contact forbidden, between game dates.
The hope is that less hitting and more rest may mean fewer concussions, fewer other injuries that don’t heal. Yes, the CIAC’s schedule checkerboard looks odd, with clusters of open dates in mid-October and almost nothing happening the week before Thanksgiving.
But the committee, faced with an impossible task, has done what it could. It can tweak what needs tweaking for 2016. But this is a start.
One problem posed by the three-round state playoffs is that they limit a school to 10 dates in the regular season. League playoffs count toward those 10.
That raised certain hardships. The Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference has had a playoff system since 1966 – a full decade before the CIAC playoffs were born.
Change it? No way. The South-West Conference and the Naugatuck Valley League were willing to give up their playoffs, but the FCIAC will settle its championship the weekend before Thanksgiving. To keep the date open, FCIAC members will limit their regular seasons to nine games. None will be playing on opening night, Sept. 11. St. Joseph has a bye after that and won’t play until Sept. 25.
A possible issue involves the CIAC score management rule, now entering its 10th season. Let’s say a team scores 35 points in the first quarter and the coach wants to send in his JV to hold the score down. The new rules let a player appear in only six quarters a week. The coach will need to keep track of who plays to be sure enough kids are eligible for the JV game.
The biggest imponderable, of course, is weather. Will makeup games have to be dumped into bye weeks? Will snow wreck the playoff timetable? No one can say. After all, this is Connecticut. Weather happens.
New co-ops, teams on move
With Wolcott Tech in Torrington quitting varsity football last month, the number of schools playing under CIAC auspices is down to 142. That’s not the only lineup change.
There’s a new varsity team, CREC Public Safety Academy in Enfield, which will play four teams from the Southern Connecticut Conference. CREC stands for the Capitol Region Education Council, which runs a string of magnet schools in and around Hartford.
Get used to it.
There’s a new name, Thames River, over in the eastern part of the state. It’s the former St. Bernard-Norwich Tech co-op team, which will practice at Norwich Tech but play home games at East Lyme.
There’s a team missing. Weaver of Hartford – winner of three state titles in the late 1990s – no longer fields its own squad. It’s in a co-op with Hartford Bulkeley and a mouthful called HMTCA (for Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy). Whitney Tech in Hamden, which couldn’t sustain its own program, has blended into a co-op with Hyde and Career.
Avon, a Class L school that outgrew the Pequot Conference, has joined the big boys in the Central Connecticut Conference. In Bridgeport, Harding and Bassick have left the FCIAC and will play the tech schools and co-ops of the Constitution State Conference.
On the prep scene, the Colonial League, which Suffield Academy and Cheshire Academy tended to dominate, has dissolved. The Hopkins-Hamden Hall game, a fixture since 1983, won’t take place this year.
Games to watch
One of this column’s objectives every year is to help the devoted fan plot a season that will let him or her see the best teams and players in the state. It’s getting harder – not just because of the schedule cutbacks, but because almost all schools in the upper enrollment brackets now play on Friday nights.
Darien and Norwich Free Academy resist the trend, but overall the Saturday games are a relative handful. To a guy who used to catch a morning schoolboy game before heading to the Yale Bowl on a Saturday, this is privation.
On Friday nights, it’s either feast or famine. Week 4 (Oct. 2, right before several teams take byes) is crammed with good matchups; ditto Week 7 (Oct. 23) and Week 10 (Nov. 13). Week 6 (Oct. 16, a bye weekend for many) offers slim pickings.
Given the constraints, the aim here is still to see likely player-of-the-year candidates – start with Ansonia’s multitasking back Tyler Bailey, Brookfield runner-cum-linebacker Bobby Drysdale, Darien defensive end Mark Evanchick, Southington passer Jalen Rose – and as many probable Top Ten teams as possible.
As a voter in the Register/GameTimeCT poll, I’m required to put 15 teams on my ballot each week. My preseason list, reading roughly from west to east, includes Brookfield, New Canaan, Darien, Staples, Shelton, Ansonia, Notre Dame of West Haven, North Haven, Xavier, Southington, Hall, Glastonbury, Bloomfield, Windsor, Ledyard. Certain other teams, such as Greenwich, Newtown, Middletown, Hand, Wethersfield and Norwich Free Academy, intrigue me. To hit all those means some mileage.
So here’s a try at wrapping them into one workable plan:
Oct. 10: Bullard-Havens at Capital Prep/Achievement, 2 p.m. — Big date for CSC adversaries.
Nov. 20: Berlin at New Britain, 7 p.m. — Neighborhood brawl with playoff implications.
One closing message for team statisticians everywhere: Please, learn the rules and remember that newspapers have deadlines. The National Federation, which writes high school playing rules, also offers rules for statistics online; see Pages 7 through 31.
You can find corresponding NCAA rules on line via Google (NFL rules are essentially useless). And keep this in mind: The world’s best-kept stats are no help if the newspapers get them too late. In a crisis, just ship the scoring summary and send the stats later to maxPreps, the CIAC’s statistical clearinghouse.