We’ve been through this more than a couple times over the years since the SCC decided to divide itself into divisions by enrollment (give or take) more than a decade ago. But it’s worth revisiting: What is the biggest goal of high school athletics as it relates to the SCC?
Is it about maximizing the amount of teams that can qualify for the CIAC playoffs in December and glory for a select few? Or is it to give the best experience to as many young men (and women) as it can?
When you phrase it that way, it’s rather obvious to most the the latter response is the way to go, but sometimes selfishness and triumph (as well as the notoriety that comes with it) can cloud our judgement a bit.
And so when the SCC somewhat courageously, and somewhat with a nod to self-preservation with smaller schools threatening to jump off the SCC train, scrapped its traditional divisions in 2004.
The result has been a product almost second-to-none in Connecticut, with the top schools almost guaranteed to play each other every fall.
There were still detractors, of course, on both sides. Division I teams, particularly those like Amity and Wilbur Cross, who have not enjoyed much success of late, were stuck with a brutal slate year in and year out, seemingly never allowing them to build anything over the long term. Amity has had seven straight losing seasons while Cross had had just two winning campaigns in the last decade and has never been to the CIAC playoffs as a member of the SCC.
At the other end of the see-saw, Division II teams were forced to play at least two (maybe three depending on Thanksgiving) “crossovers” against Division I schools that were in some cases more than double their size. Two losses in some seasons was enough to eliminate any hope of a CIAC playoff berth, not to mention the physical toll the schedule can play over the course of a fall.
Still, the system moved along, seemingly better than its predecessor so deemed good enough. Until, of course, last year, when change — buoyed by the smaller schools — came again.
This time, there will be an awkward three-tiered system, which features eight at the top, just five in the middle, and seven at the bottom.
Those in the middle are kind of all over the place in their schedule. But it didn’t take long after the new alignment was announced to draw focus to the new Division I, which consists of Xavier, Fairfield Prep, Notre Dame, West Haven, Shelton, Cheshire, North Haven, and Hand.
To put that in perspective, after Cheshire (2009) the longest playoff drought goes to perennial power Hand and Fairfield Prep (2013). And no longer would you skip one or two teams in your division, each of these eight teams will play each other every season, meaning only three of your 10 games each season will come from outside this group.
Have we gone too far? Is that possible? If you look at the Power Rankings below, it stands to reason that at least two of these schools will finish with losing records even though it could beat a lot of the other teams in the SCC on most days.
Fair? Just? For them, maybe not. But for the league as a whole, with 20 competing interests and sizes, this is about as good as we’re going to do. And, with apologies to teams that finish near the bottom of the Division I pack, it’s going to be pretty awesome to watch.
The SCC has said it will reevaluate things in two years to see how things have played out, and by then, the growing support for a full district model based solely on enrollment may be ready to become a reality by then, which will end some of the debate regarding this topic.
For now, though, here we are.
DIVISION I POWER RANKINGS
We have used words like cauldron and crucible to describe the Division I schedule before (because generally we’re too lazy to get away from cliches, but don’t tell anyone).
Biased, obviously, but it is, most seasons, the most competitive league in the state.
And now they’ve gone and made it harder.
Aside from Hillhouse, the top eight teams in the SCC may reside here. And if you’re listed below, you play all of the others. No more breaks.
While I rub my hands together and wait for the entertainment, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve finally gone too far, making it darn near impossible for the SCC to get the maximum amount of postseason teams.
But then I look at the schedule for the season and, say, nah, this is going to be awesome. However, be very aware that the bottom of this list could do very, very well in just about any other league in the state:
Like Hillhouse, the Blue Devils have a ludicrously deep set of skill position players who are a threat to score from anywhere on the field, whether it be Anthony Godfrey, Kyle Godfrey, Chris Chance, or a few others.
The Westies also have a three-year starter at quarterback in Tim McCarthy, so they shouldn’t be scared in big spots. The concerns are also the same as what the Academics will have. West Haven gave up a ton of points in its losses, including 88 to Shelton in a pair of meetings and 40 to Notre Dame in a home loss. They’ll need to be better on that side of the ball in the new and improved Division I.
In a way, the Green Knights are the opposite of their crosstown rivals. They lost a three-year starter at quarterback Christian Lupoli (New Hampshire), but returning a lot of the defense, which was outstanding last season as it was.
They will also have reigning New Haven Register Male Athlete of the Year Nico Ragaini for opponents to deal with and you can expect Tom Marcucci to find creative ways to get him involved offensively.
Ragaini returned 19 punts last season and, if the number is close to that this season, opponents have messed up pretty badly. The schedule is brutal, opening at six-time defending Rhode Island champs Bishop Hendricksen.
Well, the Indians have finally reached the big-time of SCC, ending all those arguments. Ironically, North Haven has now switched places with its Thanksgiving partner, Amity, which has the potential to reverse the arguments of the last decade.
But I digress. The Indians lost plenty, but have not-so-secretly been working on throwing the ball more with senior quarterback Jack Steinman.
You may remember Steinman threw 21 passes in the Class L title game, but will the new dimension of the single-wing make them more unstable and lead to more mistakes? We shall see.
It’s interesting that a team with a Yale-bound quarterback in Patrick Conte struggled so much last season on offense.
But Conte’s (and, by extension, Prep’s) year got derailed with a shoulder injury in the opener against Notre Dame and he was able to throw only 3 touchdown passes all season.
Now healthy, Conte has the ability to push the Jesuits to a state playoff berth if they can find a replacement for Nick Franchuk on both sides of the ball.
One benefit to the rash of injuries that the Gaels had to deal with last season was giving some new people a chance for 2016.
David Wells has experience at quarterback and will present a little different style than Zach Tuskowski, but can be just as effective if he can find a supporting cast.
There won’t be many recognizable names on the Shelton roster at the beginning of the season. How many of them are at the end may show how far the Gaels will go this season.
We’re into the “prove me wrong” portion of the program, although as I wrote earlier, we’re largely talking about the best of the best, so the margin for error is tiny.
Will Levis returns at quarterback and Glenn Cunningham will be running the ball, but the Falcons, like Prep, just had all kinds of trouble moving the ball at times last season and the season before, as well.
If they can against some of these defenses, they should be fine in the end, but we shall see.
You starting to understand how deep the new Division I is yet?
The Tigers started 5-0 last season, but that turned out to be largely because a weak-ish schedule to begin. It’s a luxury they will not be afforded in 2016 with Fairfield Prep, Hillhouse, North Haven, Shelton, Xavier, Notre Dame and West Haven all in the first eight weeks of the campaign.
The Tigers have had only two losing records (2014, 2006) as a member of the SCC. Nick van Dell was not only a three-year starter at quarterback, but also Hand’s leading rusher by a pretty wide margin last year.
Sophomore Will Graikoski came off the bench to nearly lead the Rams to a shocking victory over Southington on Thanksgiving, but it’s unclear if it will be him or previous starter Jack Raba leading the team against North Haven.
More than any other team in Division I, Cheshire seems to have the longest road to the top, especially with Southington as a Thanksgiving rival. But any team that gave Southington a scare last season and returns a decent amount of players should not be taken lightly.
[aesop_image imgwidth=”720″ img=”http://www.gametimect.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/SCC-2016-TILT-e1468384058105.jpg” align=”left” lightbox=”on” captionposition=”left”]