Jim BRANSFIELD: Class, schedule matter in football playoffs

MIDDLETOWN >> It’s down to the Final Four in each of four classes of the state high school football championship playoffs.

Some observations.

The quarterfinal round demonstrated that a team’s schedule has a great deal to do with what happens in the postseason. There are some standout examples. Class L Platt of Meriden went 11-0, but played a schedule that had six Class S teams, four Class M teams and one Class L team, city rival Maloney which won one game.

That’s not Platt’s fault. It played the schedule it was given by the Central Connecticut Conference. But in the playoffs, it faced North Haven of the Southern Connecticut Conference and North Haven played an L and LL schedule. That North Haven won 35-0 was not a stunner.

Ditto Capital Prep/Classical Prep/Achievement of Hartford. That club was undefeated and in the season’s second game, beat New London before the Whalers righted themselves and went on an eight game winning streak.

Ancient history.

But Capital Prep played all the rest of its games in the Constitution State Conference, a league of equally balanced teams, but not a league even its most ardent supporters would call elite.

It met Bloomfield of the CCC, a team that has not received any support in statewide polls but whose schedule was much more competitive – Platt, Rocky Hill, Berlin, Northwest Catholic – than Prep’s. Bloomfield won 27-3. Again, not a surprise.

Newtown was unbeaten and under the CIAC ranking system, was No. 1 in Class LL. But Newtown played a schedule of six Class M schools, three Class L schools, one Class S and only one Class LL school. Ridgefield, a two-loss team, played six LL schools. Ridgefield won 35-33 and yeah, it makes a difference.

The CIAC has classes for a reason and if you are going to play bigger boys in the postseason, you should play bigger boys in the regular season.

Middletown and Darien are L schools and both played appropriate schedules. The Blue Dragons played two LL schools, nine L schools and one M school. Darien, which beat New Canaan on Thanksgiving, then won a 31-29 thriller over Hand Tuesday, played three Class LL teams, six L teams and two M teams, Hillhouse and St. Joseph.

I don’t know who will win this game, but it won’t be because teams didn’t play appropriate caliber opponents. It will be because one team is just better than the other.

The other area team alive is Class M Valley Regional/Old Lyme, which will play Brookfield, which upset Bethel 22-21 after losing to the same team 20-0 on Thanksgiving. Valley is very good, a team many think that despite playing a mainly Class S schedule (plus one Class L team and two Class M teams) is a legitimate Class M level team.

In Brookfield, the Warriors will be meeting a team that played three Class LL teams, three Class L teams, four Class M teams and one Class S team. It will be interesting to see how this one comes out. Is this one is which the size of your opponents matters, which is usually the case, or is Valley just so good it transcends the rule?

The Final Four in Class L is loaded. The four teams expected to be there – North Haven of the SCC, Middletown of the CCC, Darien and New Canaan of the FCIAC – are there.

It’s possible that the L title game will be a rematch of the Thanksgiving Day game between New Canaan and Darien, which was won by Darien in a stunner. But my Fairfield County moles tell me that some key players for New Canaan didn’t play on Turkey Day, but I dunno for sure.

Or will Middletown win? After all, the Blue Dragons (11-1) were ranked ahead of Darien in the polls most of the season. But then, a lot of teams were ranked all over the place and a lot of them have to buy tickets to see playoff games.

Or will New Canaan, ranked No. 1 for most of the second half of the season in the polls, reclaim No. 1? Or will North Haven, losers only to Hand and Darien, demonstrate the strength of the SCC?

Fascinating Final Four in Class L.

In LL, Southington dispatched Norwich Free Academy, 52-14, making it a lost night for the Eastern Connecticut Conference as NFA, New London and Ledyard went down to resounding defeats. The Blue Knights will take on Ridgefield, while the other semifinal is a rematch of Fairfield Prep versus West Haven, won by Prep on Thanksgiving.

As expected, West Haven beat up on Hall, a team which had a tough time with Hartford Public in the regular season. Glastonbury gave Prep a tussle before bowing 33-23. Figure this one to be a beauty.

Then what is there left to say about St. Joseph-Trumbull? In what resembled a ping-pong match, St. Joe beat Ledyard 84-49. If there was any defense played in this one, no one saw it.

St. Joe is the prohibitive favorite to win Class M, but it gave up 49 points, for heaven’s sake. One sobering thought for Class L teams? St. Joe played New Canaan twice, once in the regular season and once in the FCIAC championship game.

New Canaan trounced the Hogs – they used to be called the Cadets – both times.

For area fans, it’s Middletown versus Darien at Pomperaug (Southbury) and Valley versus Brookfield at Cheshire at 2 p.m. Saturday. Both venues are easy to get to and both are good places to hold semifinal games.

Can’t wait.

Link to original article


  1. jeb says


    I always enjoy your opinions and I agree with the above article. The teams that play the tougher schedules during the year usually do prevail in the playoffs. The class L is going to be a crapshoot..four good teams with different styles.

  2. 2xthere/2xbeat by recruited catholic "college prep" schools says

    I understand the difference in level of size of schools playing scheduled games is out of our control for the most part. At least you know what your up against somewhat. My question is why should a team that recruits be playing against any non recruiting team. Am i correct that catholic prep schools can recruit? If so , how can that be a fair balance of teams at all? Maybe that needs to be rethought by be.

    • FauxRealism says

      What is the evidence that having students from multiple towns (which seems to be what you call “recruiting”) is an advantage, let alone an unfair advantage?

      Xavier, Fairfield Prep and ND-WH combined have fewer championships than Hand or New Canaan, and half as many as Ansonia. In football, by any quantitative measure (titles, winning percentage, longest win streaks, etc), PUBLIC schools dominate.

      If we are going to rethink things, maybe towns that put massive emphasis on and dedicate enormous resources to their football programs should all be put in the same (open) division?

      • To Faux says

        I think some towns are merely ‘football towns’ and thus traditionally field strong teams. Examples include Ansonia, Shelton, Hand etc.

        The private schools are usually accused of ‘recruiting’ when it comes to hockey and lacrosse. I do not believe Prep, NDWH and Xavier recruit overtly, but two factors tip the scales in their favor in those two sports.

        First, those sports have a higher cost to participate. Those who can afford to put their kids in programs at a young age can typically afford private school tuition.

        Second, kids want to play for winning programs. The past success of these programs attracts talented players.

        The bottom line is that those schools do not need to recruit for hockey or LAX…

  3. Mike says

    I agree with a lot of your points. A tougher schedule by far helps a team prepare and show who they really are. As a Newtown fan, I agree the #1 ranking in the LL was a little high, but we won our games and the points fell that way. Only the CIAC can change that, not the teams. Should Newtown have been excluded from the playoffs so one of these teams with a superior strength of schedule who might be a better team whose better coached but loss those key games against tough opponents come in? I do not 100% agree with that. I’m not sure if that is what you mean from you article, but I feel as if there are a lot of fans who do believe that statement true. Teams who have a harder schedule, who want to get rewarded for having a harder schedule, still need to win the games against those tougher teams. Just because you play a harder schedule does not mean you should get rewarded for it, on that alone, if you do not get the job done. While i totally agree, SOS should have an increased importance in playoff point rankings, most of that comes from skeptical bias opinions also.

  4. Dr. Von Nostran says

    Newtown and Ridgefield were two evenly matched teams and both belonged where they were. If you flip their schedules, maybe Newtown is 9-2 and Ridgefield is 11-0, but the result of their on-field match up would still come down to the last play. Any given year the top of the SWC is as good as any other conference.

    • willie says

      I commend newtown on their great season. it is not easy to go 11-0 in the regular season. and they belonged in the playoffs. having a system that puts them at number 1 seed, however, is silly. it is also a bit unfair given the current system because it means they have to play the lower seeded but battle hardened scc and fciac teams..would have been much better off if seeded 4 or 5. i also think ridgefield is a team that is very well coached and has improved as the season has progressed. they are a better team now than the team that beat cheshire by a point and ndwh by a td. i wish them well and who knows ridgefield could win it all. all i would say is that a system that results in xavier being out of the playoffs is a bit unfair given their sos. quick question: if you had no choice but had to bet your car on who would win xavier, on the one hand, or newtown or ridgefield, on the other, who would you bet on? lets be honest 90 % of you say xavier…because you know they played a tough schedule, lost some close games and have the mojo.. (now maybe is is x’s fault for not getting that 11th game. if they had just stuck with middletown on turkey day, middletown would be out and X would be in.) should ridgefield or some of the ccc teams or nfa be in rather than X, greenwich, staples, trumbull, shelton when one looks at sos? than x, probably not.. and the others…in the case of ridgefield i can probably live with some rough justice (truth be told ridgefield would appear to be on paper about the 10th or 11th best team in the combined fciac/scc and that they beat newtown does seem to give some indication of the relative level of competition among tehe leagues…however i suspect they are team that is jelling late and are better than this.this happens),in the case of the ccc schools and nfa? too many get in with weak sos. simple as that.
      when one starts looking at the lower classes eg M the treatment of the sos issue is very unfair. foran should be in the M playoffs for example. a system that results in their being out is unfair. i am sure there are many other examples

      • Xfan says

        What does Middletown have to do with this. Xavier loss to class L North Haven. They also lost 2 other games. Xaviers out because Xavier lost 3 games yes 3 games. At least beat a class L school and they would’ve been in. Lets be real

        • willie says

          Xfan-if X had played and beaten middletown on thanksgiving as they have done for years and years up until this year, X would be in, even with 3 losses. other than that middletown has nothing to do with it. other than that mrs kennedy, how did you like the parade.

  5. johnnybaccala says

    Out of curiosity Whatever happened to MASUK RULES? You couldn’t keep him away from this blog the past three years. If he is deceased then I apologize

  6. Dave says

    All very valid points worthy of consideration by the CIAC…..however, when the game times are scheduled the way they have been this year…..all at the same time……and some of these very questionable venues are choosen for quarter final and semi final games,…….. I have little faith that there will be any significant improvement in the overall playoff format in the near future.

    • JJ says

      I can see the scheduling at this time of yr. The weather is rough during the day. Even worse at night. So to be fair they should all play at the same time. Also makes it a slightly better experience for everyone..

  7. T says

    “But my Fairfield County moles tell me that some key players for New Canaan didn’t play on Turkey Day, but I dunno for sure” Who didnt play for New Canaan against Darien? They played everyone and had a bad game. I’d put my money on NC to win it all but you shouldn’t use moles if they dont even give you a name. You’re taking away from Darien’s unbelievable game with a made up fact.

  8. CT_YANKEE_in_CT says

    Dr. V I am not one to bash you or other leagues but I need to address your earlier email. All leagues have achieved varying degrees of success and should be proud of their accomplishments. There tends to be a lot of hyperbole and over-zealous league enthusiasts on GaetimeCT –but that’s what makes reading these comments so entertaining. The SWC along with the CCC and NVL are often dismissed in a less than flattering manner, so I can understand your sensitivity. However, I read your comment “Any given year the top of the SWC is as good as any other conference” and my knee jerk reaction was he’s got to be kidding. To be honest, I believe the SWC, CCC & NVL are weaker leagues than the SCC and FCIAC. –in most years they are significantly weaker. But to be fair, I wanted to do some research and not be a hypocrite. This does not mean that the SWC does not produce good teams each season but to say the SWC top teams are just as good as the FCIAC & SCC’s top teams is not based on fact or reality. First, we’ll use your Newtown Ridgefield game comparison
    1. The Ridgefield-Newtown game looked like it was a great game. Two teams battling to the final play in a close game. However, Ridgefield is the FCIAC’s 6th best team based on Power Points (shttp://www.fciac.net/standings/fall-standings/football/). For argument’s sake take Newtown out of the equation, the remaining SWC teams 2-6 do not compare to the FCIAC or SCC.
    2. If each of this year’s FCIACS top 6 teams (New Canaan, St. Joes, Staples, Trumbull, Darien & Ridgefield) played each of the SWC’s top 6 teams (Newtown, Masuk, Brookfield, Barlow, Bethel & New Fairfield) four would probably go 6-0 and two would probably lose 1 or 2 games. Best case scenario for the SWC Newtown would win 2 games and of the remaining five teams most would lose all six. I understand this is a projection and there is always the occasional upset but you get the point.
    Let’s look a little further. I will use the FCIAC as a point of comparison. I took the time to go to the CIAC website (http://ciacsports.com/site/?page_id=952) for my information below but here are a few points based on the last 13 seasons (2000 – 2012)
    1. CT State playoff appearances by team: FCIAC 44 teams / SWC 26 teams. FCIAC has 29% more appearances
    2. Championship game appearances by team: FCIAC 27 TEAMS / SWC 14 teams. FCIAC has 69% more appearances
    3. Championships: FCIAC 14 / SWC 6. FCIAC has 133% more titles
    These numbers are staggering. No objective individual can make the claim that the SWC, as a league, is equal to either the FCIAC or SCC. During this period the SCC has 26 Championship appearances with a 20-6 record. This does not mean that SWC hasn’t had some great teams during this time period or that those teams could not have competed with the other league’s teams. They would have done well during those years. We can debate ad nauseam what the record would have been but that’s not the point. I am in no way diminishing the accomplishments or the successful teams during their successful years. I hope the SWC improves and gets more consistent winners. It’s good for the state. The point is, as a league, and in particular the top teams, the SWC does not compare to either the FCIAC or the SCC. Frankly, it’s not even close.

    • aok says

      And the SWC is still better than than the NVL[Pequot west]
      state champion should come from best divisions

      • Matt Glaszmattglasz says

        This is how CalPreps ranks the CT leagues thus far using their ranking system for individual teams. Be sure to read their preface: http://calpreps.com/2013/ratings/Connecticut_leagues.htm

        Rank League
        1 Southern Connecticut Division I – West
        2 Southern Connecticut Division I – East
        3 Central Connecticut I West
        4 Fairfield County
        5 Southern Connecticut Division II – East
        5 Central Connecticut II West
        7 Central Connecticut I East
        8 Eastern Connecticut – Large
        9 Southwest
        10 Naugatuck Valley – Brass
        11 Central Connecticut III West
        12 Naugatuck Valley – Copper
        13 Eastern Connecticut – Medium
        14 Pequot – South
        15 Southern Connecticut Division II – West
        16 Central Connecticut II East
        17 Central Connecticut III East
        18 Pequot – West
        19 Eastern Connecticut – Small
        20 Pequot – North
        21 Constitution State

        Considering the dominance of the FCIAC this year it’s hard to rationalize them as fourth until you take into account that ALL teams from that league are included in these calculations, whereas the Div. I teams from the SCC, CCC, etc. are ranked separately.

        Obviously the bottom of the FCIAC dragged down their total whereas the bottom teams from the SCC & CCC, i.e. the Div. II, III teams were given their own ranking.

        Interesting that all divisions from the NVL and ECC along with the SWC and all but one of the CCC divisions ranked behind the SCC Div. II East.

        My conclusion is that the top of the FCIAC is the best league in 2013 while the SCC is the deepest. Also, because of the way the SCC schedules their teams I believe it is still the toughest to navigate.

        Clearly there is still much to be decided. The FCIAC could end up with three state champions. The favorites in Class L and M are certianly from the FCIAC. However, if NH and either Prep or West Haven can give the SCC state titles in Class LL and L then you could argue that once again the SCC is the Class of CT.

        We shall see! Enjoy the games tomorrow everyone.

        • ACL says

          Well done Matt. Best, and most reasonable, explanation I have seen, bar none. Make sure you save this because it can be used in ANY thread on this site when discussing the strength of conferences.

          • Matt Glaszmattglasz says

            Out of curiosity I averaged the current CapPrep ratings figures for the different divisions within the leagues and here were the results:

            FCIAC 12.2
            SCC 12.18
            SWC 1.9
            CCC 1.26
            NVL -0.1
            ECC -4.2
            Pequot -13.03
            CSC -28

            No real surprises; the difference between the FCIAC and SCC is negligible, with a large drop-off after that. The other leagues are fairly close with the exception of the Pequot and CSC where you see another large drop off.

            I’m not saying this is gospel but it’s interesting to see unbiased data related to a topic that is OFTEN discussed here. I’ll be curious to see if/how much this changes after the State Champions are crowned.

  9. Dr. Von Nostran says

    CT Yankee-
    I get it. I’m an FCIAC guy. The biggest difference I see between the leagues (aside from larger teams) is the consistency of the top programs and the GREAT long term coaches that the SCC and FCIAC have in place.
    I think the SWC has been hit pretty hard in recent years by some coaching turnover. Teams are up and down, but for a while Pomperaug, Masuk, Bunnell were as good as anyone…and Bethel/Brookfield always field competetive teams. 2004-2010 was not a bad run for the SWC. Teams here tend to be dismissed due to the league they play in. Plus, sometimes it’s more fun to play devil’s advocate.

    • JB says

      Jim, excellent assessment. Just screams for more cross-over games, doesn’t it? The SCC and FCIAC really got it right this year. The CCC and ECC need to join this leadership. The only game I might have a slight disagreement with you on was describing Glastonbury giving Prep a “tussle”. From what I saw, Prep jumped out to a 16 point lead and then just cruised to the end. Game was never in doubt, from the very first whistle it was obvious Glastonbury was out-matched on both sides of the ball. Prep has the best OL/DL in the state. Glastonbury is a good team, but even they needed more in-season competition to be better qualified for the post-season. The CCC needs to schedule better in-conference crossovers and also join the SCC & FCIAC in crossovers out of conference. The match-ups would be awesome.

  10. roto says

    Can someone please answer thus question in a straightforward manner: why did the Xavier-Middletown Thanksgiving series end? Whose choice was it and why?

    • willie says

      official answer: this had nothing to do with middletown getting beat badly by X every year.
      odd answer.
      no affirmative explanation of why two teams from the same town would cancel traditional thanksgiving date.
      real answer: middletown had had it with being beaten badly by X every year.
      X plays that game this year and they are in the playoffs.

  11. JB says

    Mike, I think Jim’s point is that competition is really good and qualifies teams better for the playoffs. Is a 3 loss Xavier a tougher competitor than a 0 loss Newtown? Probably. I think what Jim is saying is that it benefits a team to play tougher competition to be better prepared to compete at the higher level, even if it means losing a couple of games and risk missing the post-season. Making States shouldn’t be about shying away from competition inorder to accumulate playoff points from a bunch of cupcakes. I know people say “its not a team’s fault and they are just playing the schedule given them” but that is a bit of a cop out in my opinion. I think Jim is saying that the teams who embrace the higher level of competition actually do better in States.

    • Mike says

      i agree, there is no arguing that point. Playing better competition betters you as a team. Would X beat Newtown, yea probably the majority of times. But just because they are the better team does not mean you should make the playoffs. I agree to that its a bit of a cop out saying they played the schedule given, but at the same time its truths. It is not the faults of schools for being awarded all these playoff points for playing their schedule and winning. Until there is change in the playoff system of some sort this will keep happening. Should an undefeated team be left out because a 3 loss team is better and played better teams, I think that would be a bit ridiculous, but in the example of Newtown, no doubt having an easy road in, they should not be excluded but at the same time #1 LL is also a bit of a reach.

    • Mike says

      I dont think you can really look at the playoff point rankings as a poll though to rank top teams in the state or even class. I think it really is just a ranking system designed to get 8 teams with the best records based on their W/L’s plus your opponents W/L’s into the playoffs. Using bonus points from opponents W/L’s is kind of the only hard statistical way to base SOS without being bias or skeptical or have any sort of human effect. Now changing the bonus points would be a great idea to better this system. For sure more work needs to be done.

  12. JJ says

    That was a real interesting piece that you just wrote there. However it feels a little incomplete because the 1 team that you should have mentioned you didn’t. Ansonia, the elephant in the room. It would be interesting to rate the schedule they played yet because they haven’t lost they are the number 1 ranked team in the state. Now I don’t want to dismiss Ansonia out of hand because they are definitely a good team. But the question is: are they the best? We don’t know that and we won’t know that because they haven’t and they won’t be tested this yr. Just something the voters should take into consideration when voting for the #1 team in the state this yr

  13. JB says

    Ansonia is a small school that plays in a small school league/division. The overall state media ranking is not what I am talking about, but this year I think Ansonia’s team has a decent claim right now to the top ranking. I would hope in other years, the media would rank what they see even if Ansonia happens to be undefeated but not a #1 team. Even this year if someone like NC runs the table in a series of playoff blowouts and Ansonia struggles one little bit … the media could end up putting NC back on top.

  14. JB says

    Matt – also, I don’t beleive the CCC plays very many in-conference crossover games … for example, none of Glastonbury, Southington or Hall played Middletown or Platt. The FCIAC and SCC have robust in-conference crossover games between divisions. I think that is why the SCC II East & West don’t rank higher.

    • willie says

      middletown-darien will be an interesting litmus test of league competitiveness as was platt-NH last week. the interesting aspect of middletown-darien is the two schools played similar class schools. i wish them both well. that said and no disrespect, but i have to say middletown’s schedule is suspect. yes they beat new london after losing to them. new london lost to capital prep??! and ledyard?!?….badly if i recall correctly. hmmm…middletown does not play Xavier on xsgiving anymore. why???? call me a cynic but could it be to avoid an extra loss and make the ciac playoffs? hmmm…something is wrong with this picture.
      I ‘ll go out on a limb here: darien wins easily.

  15. JD says

    OK, I agree that the SWC is not (top to bottom) as good as other leagues. BUT they have teams that can play football. Newtown beat Barlow (in playoffs) (Bethel In playoffs) and Brookfield 2X (in playoffs). The past two years I know Masuk lost to Hand but they did beat North haven and Middletown to get to those Hand games. Bottom line is conferences are set up and teams play in those conferences. EVERY conference has BAD teams. The only thing that matters is what happens that one time the teams buckle their chinstraps. If Barlow beats St. Joes today it does not mean that the SWC is better, it means that TODAY Barlow played well enough to win. All systems are flawed Alabama may be shut out of the NC picture because of a 109 yard missed field goal return with 000’s on the clock.

    Now, Ansonia…they are good, very good and the NVL may not be very good but they win in states also. I feel bad for Newsome, he should be the player of the year in CT, no matter where he lived or lives.

    • willie says

      top 15? makes me wonder if folks realize just how weak ansonia’s schedule is. what team does ansonia play that is a top 40-50 team is more the question? i suppose naugatuck would be about 35 and woodland would be about 45..and seymour who almost beat them would be in the top 75.

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