[aesop_character img=”http://www.gametimect.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/rbtbarton-30.jpeg” caption=”BOB BARTON” align=”right” force_circle=”off”]
Get ready for a trip into the unknown.
Connecticut scholastic football in 2016 will have a shockingly new cast of characters. Graduation tore the talent out of practically every major program in the state. In 40-odd years as a Register poll voter, I’ve never seen a year with fewer proven stars by whom to chart an itinerary or to guess who’ll make the playoffs.
Oh, there are names I recognize – Xavier’s Glenn Cunningham, a force when the Falcons won a state playoff title in 2014; Jaylen Kelley, Seymour’s do-it-all quarterback; Nico Ragaini, Notre Dame-West Haven’s all-state wideout.
But there’s no guarantee that they or their teams will be playing for anything this December. It’s conceivable – not likely but at least thinkable — that every team in last year’s Register Top 10 will have lost a game before the autumnal equinox.
What’s certain is this: The restructured Southern Connecticut Conference will have three divisions instead of two, easing burdens on some teams and throwing others into a scheduling shark tank.
Each of the state’s eight leagues will have a mandated bye week in midseason, a measure designed to let injured bodies heal. A revamped “score management” rule will allow officials to let the clock run in the second half of any game that’s becoming a rout. The trigger will be a 42-point margin in the third quarter or 35 points in the fourth.
The running-clock provision may mean fewer – or at least shorter – lopsided games, fewer games in which someone throws for eight or nine touchdowns, that sort of thing. Games in which both sides score a lot, like last year’s 69-52 Wolcott-St. Paul touchdownathon, won’t be affected.
From the stands, you may notice that jerseys and pants cover more of a player than they did last year. The idea isn’t modesty but safety – maybe a bruised kneecap instead of a broken one, given longer padding. Results will be hard to measure.
The conference bye weeks, happily, won’t all come at once. They’re spread among three weekends:
Oct. 7-8: Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference, South-West Conference, Eastern Connecticut Conference, Pequot League, Constitution State Conference.
Oct. 14-15: SCC and Central Connecticut Conference.
Oct. 21-22: Naugatuck Valley League.
The earliest round of byes should help players and parents who want to hit the interstates that Saturday morning for either the 100th Yale-Dartmouth game in New Haven or UConn-Cincinnati in East Hartford. The NVL open dates may benefit kids taking the ACT exam on the 22nd.
Over the long haul – even with gaps in the schedule, a state finalist will have to play 13 games – the hunch here is that Fairfield County will again be Connecticut’s power base. That county, Connecticut’s richest and 39th nationally in median household income, produced five of the eight teams in last fall’s state tournament finals (Darien, Shelton, New Canaan, Brookfield, New Fairfield). In football, as in much of life, the rich tend to get richer.
Darien, last year’s No. 1 in every poll, figures to be a leader again because it retains 300-pound Andrew Stueber, a two-way titan in the line. New Canaan has freshman quarterback Drew Pyne, whom colleges began chasing in Pop Warner League, and coach Lou Marinelli has enough applicants that someone else may be the starter.
Marinelli’s son John has been schooling Greenwich in his dad’s pass-’em-dizzy offense for a year now, so results may come soon. Staples of Westport will be dangerous as long as Marce Petroccio remains head coach.
Thus in proposing what to see and where and when, I tend to glance southwestward first, then look for other attractions to provide some balance. With that, here goes:
Week 1 (Sept. 9-10)
- Ansonia at Wolcott, 6:30 p.m. Friday. If Ansonia, racked by graduation, has anything left, this is when we find out.
- New Canaan at Trinity Catholic, 2 p.m. Saturday. A rare chance to see New Canaan’s aerial circus in daylight.
Week 2 (Sept. 16-17)
- West Haven at Xavier, Palmer Field, 7 p.m. Friday. Parking egress makes this game the choice over Wethersfield-Middletown, just 2.4 miles up the road.
- St. Joseph at Ledyard, 6:30 p.m. Saturday. One of the last times these teams met, in a 2013 playoff game, they put a state-record 133 points on the board, 84 by St. Joe. The next season the Hogs beat Ledyard for its latest state title.
Week 3 (Sept. 23-24)
- Glastonbury at Southington, 7 p.m. Friday. Fourteen TDs in their game last year, when a 27-point last quarter saved Southington.
- Greenwich at Darien, 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Tailor-made one for fans of daytime football.
Week 4 (Sept. 30-Oct. 1)
- Xavier at Shelton, 7 p.m. Friday. A weathervane game for the Class LL playoff field.
- Berlin at Northwest Catholic, 1:30 p.m. Saturday. If Berlin is coming back after a year that went down the chute, this is a time to make a statement.
Week 5 (Oct. 7-8)
- Notre Dame-West Haven at North Haven, 7 p.m. Friday. Are these squads middleweights or heavyweights? This game offers a clue.
- Staples at Norwich Free Academy, 1 p.m. Saturday. All that’s happening in either one’s league this weekend.
Week 6 (Oct. 14-15)
- North Branford at Valley Regional, 6:30 p.m. Friday. These teams should be in the thick of the Pequot League chase.
- Trumbull at Greenwich, 3 p.m. Saturday. Fortunately they can turn lights on if needed.
Week 7 (Oct. 21-22)
- Newtown at Bunnell, 7 p.m. Friday. A chance to see Newtown without having to park there. (If you’ve tried lately, you know how that goes.)
- Avon Old Farms at Taft, 3:15 p.m. Saturday. CIAC schedule is bland, but it should be a pretty day for a drive to Watertown.
Week 8 (Oct. 28-29)
- Seymour at Ansonia, 6 p.m. Thursday. NVL starts season’s second half with a Thursday night superspecial.
- Wethersfield at Windsor, 7 p.m. Friday. Last year’s meeting (Windsor staved off defeat, 21-14) was a classic.
- Cheney Tech at Prince Tech, noon Saturday. On a dull day in other leagues, a chance to evaluate the caliber of CSC football.
Week 9 (Nov. 4-5)
- New Canaan at Trumbull, 7 p.m. Friday. Retooled New Canaan should be rolling by this time.
- Bloomfield at Northwest Catholic, 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Bloomfield, defending Class S champion, should be in playoff form.
Week 10 (Nov. 11-12)
- West Haven at Shelton, 7 p.m. Friday. Big game in the Class LL playoff picture.
- Deerfield Academy at Choate, 1:15 p.m. Saturday. Slow day for public schools, so catch a prep oldie-but-goodie.
Week 11 (Nov. 17-19)
- East Haven at McMahon, 7 p.m. Thursday. Odd couple, but worth seeing.
- New London at Waterford, 6:30 p.m. Friday. Hard to say if this will make a difference.
- Conard at William Hall, 1:30 p.m. Saturday. This is Harvard-Yale, Ohio State-Michigan on a smaller scale.
Week 12 (Nov. 22-24)
- Simsbury at Avon, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday: Getting a real jump on the weekend.
- Windsor at Middletown, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday: Playoff stakes could be massive.
- Darien at New Canaan, 10:30 a.m. Thursday: Is there anywhere else to be?
CIAC must reconsider forfeit points
I hate forfeitures – loathe, disdain, despise them. Always have, always will. I’m still cheesed about Wilbur Cross’s forfeiting two games it won in 1957, though someone obviously didn’t check birth certificates. I get heartburn over the win the Housatonic League principals took from North Haven in 1982, overruling the referee and a sentence in the National Federation rule book.
Forfeitures were the bane of Connecticut football in 2015.
Various teams forfeited scheduled games because they ran short of players. Plainfield forfeited after 13 players were accused of exchanging photos of naked female students. Coginchaug forfeited because its coaching staff quit. Berlin coughed up seven victories after a CIAC investigation found four of its players were violating residency requirements.
All the forfeitures were in accord with CIAC rules and procedures. Most hurt nobody but the schools involved. There’s no squawk here about a school district’s punishing a squad that let pornography leach into its culture.
Certainly no complaint about the CIAC’s throwing the book at Berlin. I’d have heaved a whole library.
The complaint is that forfeitures sometimes hurt the innocent. In Berlin’s case – the Redcoats were 7-2 when the ruling was handed down – Avon and Rocky Hill were stripped of playoff points they’d have earned from Berlin victories. Those schools had done the work, won tough games (21-14 and 26-23 respectively) and suddenly had no more to show for it than teams that Berlin had massacred 47-0 or 49-6.
In the playoff point standings, Avon finished ninth in Class L, Rocky Hill ninth in Class S. In each class, eight teams make the playoffs.
So here’s a suggestion to the CIAC Football Committee in the name of fairness: In computing playoff points, make a victory on the field worth more than a forfeiture won in the committee room. Counting administrative forfeitures at 50 or 60 percent of face value would have restructured the Class S field.
The Coginchaug forfeiture was a sad failure of communication at multiple levels. A ruckus happened in the stands up at Stafford. A player reacted. A coach reacted to the player. Certain players and parents reacted to the coach. Suddenly the school needed new coaches, and the Blue Devils’ game with Granby was called off.
I never saw film of the incident, if any exists, but I can say this much: If a player leaves the field or his team box, defined in Rule 1-2-g, to join a fight, and if the game officials see him, Rule 9-8-3 empowers them to eject him. In that scenario, suspension for the next game is automatic, a coach’s opinion irrelevant.
Wherefore, suggestion No. 2, directed to athletic directors and booster clubs: Instead of laying out money to give kids personalized jackets, to put names on pants and jerseys and all that jazz, spend it on basic education. Hand every player entering the program a rule book. Make kids learn what’s legal and illegal, sportsmanlike and unsportsmanlike, what the penalties are for violations. Let them share the books with their parents.
The book isn’t hard to obtain, and rule changes, with diagrams, are published on line.
Reading the rules might encourage a few kids to study law. Over time, it might produce sharper coaches for youth leagues and schools and even an eager new generation of referees, umpires, head linesmen and field judges. That would be a good thing.
Bob Barton is a retired Register copy editor. He has voted in the Top 10 poll for over 40 years.