Scott Ericson: FCIAC football needs to address scheduling
Published 12:31 pm, Wednesday, November 30, 2016
It is time for a change.
It has gotten to the point where most weeks of the FCIAC football schedule are comprised of unwatchable game after unwatchable game.
Unwatchable in the sense that nobody wants to routinely take in the routing of one team by another.
And a lot of these games are just that. A merciless pummeling from one of the top programs on one of the teams at the bottom of the standings.
Not saying these games can never happen, but right now they are happening far too often and it is hurting the game, attendance and athletes’ willingness to come out for the teams at some schools.
Team records the last five seasons
1. Darien 44-3
2. New Canaan 43-5
3. St. Joseph 37-8
4. Staples 36-10
5. Greenwich 32-15
6. Ridgefield 31-15
7. Trumbull 28-19
8. Trinity Catholic 27-19
9. McMahon 22-23
10. Norwalk 19-28
11. Stamford 17-29
12. Wilton 16-28
13. Westhill 15-32
14. Danbury 14-32
15. Warde 13-32
16. Ludlowe 13-33
17. Central 7-40
Need evidence of this? Look at the number of kids on the Class LL Ludlowe or Bridgeport Central football rosters and they resemble teams more likely to be at a Class M or S school.
Competitiveness is the essence of high school athletics. The students learn life lessons from spirited competition but far too often on Fairfield County football fields we are seeing less and less in the way of real competition.
Instead teams get on a bus knowing they have no shot at winning or even staying close. How is a coach supposed to motivate a group of players facing that?
When there are teams that show up just to take a beating it hurts competition and turns the positivity of high school athletics into an unpleasant experience for all involved.
To their credit, schools such as Westhill, Warde or Central show up every week and give it all they have but no amount of effort is going to overcome the massive odds against them.
Conversely, the attendance at these uneven games is abysmal.
Have you ever been to Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport to watch Central host New Canaan?
Of course, you have not. Nobody goes, and that is the point.
Why would anyone shell out money to go watch a game like that? Central students do not want to go see their Hilltoppers get pounded and Rams fans are certainly not driving up 95 to watch the JV play in the second half.
If a student is considering playing football at one of these schools why would they sign up for months of practice just to know that in two-thirds of their games they will be getting their heads kicked in?
And why would a non-football player at these schools spend a Friday night watching their friends get knocked around?
If you look at the records for schools the last five years and separate them into two tiers with it split 8 on top and 9 on the bottom, Ludlowe would have played five of its nine games against top-tier teams this season.
The combined score of those five games was 241-72
It is not just Ludlowe.
Looking at the games played between top- and bottom-tier teams this season, prior to Thanksgiving, and the top teams are a combined 39-0 against the bottom teams.
39-0 with an average point differential of 29 points per game.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Westhill was close twice to breaking the stranglehold, losing to Greenwich 22-16 and St. Joseph 19-14, but for the most part the games between the two groups were not competitive.
Consider Danbury. The Hatters were 0-4 against top teams, being outscored 135-37. Against teams in their tier, the Hatters were 2-2, outscoring opponents 70-60.
The way the league schedules these teams is out of whack with the reality of how competitive the league is top to bottom.
The teams with the hardest schedules this season were Danbury, which faced teams with a combined .585 winning percentage, Ludlowe (.582) Westhill (.570) and Greenwich (.550).
Only Greenwich belongs with a schedule that strong.
And as for the other top teams, Darien (.455), Trumbull (.443) New Canaan (.430), St. Joseph (.424) and Ridgefield (.375) had five of the six easiest schedules along with Wilton (.400).
It is time for a change.
Not to say the top teams should never play the bottom teams but the less this happens, the better.
The FCIAC athletic directors have been presented with several schedule options for next year, but nothing will be set until after the season.
In the past, teams at the top of the league pushed back against trying a different approach arguing the onus is on the teams at the bottom to improve, not for the teams at the top to adjust their schedules.
It is the same argument used every time this is discussed, but it is an argument built on a foundation of sand. If it is not fixed the house built on that foundation will collapse.
The gap is not getting smaller, if anything it is more pronounced with several factors contributing, but none more than towns with multiple high schools and feeder programs.
The communities with two public high schools are all in the bottom half because there is little if any continuity between youth feeder programs and the high schools.
Players at New Canaan, Ridgefield, Staples and Darien enter high school already knowing the program and are accustom to how the offenses and defenses are run because they are taught in the youth programs.
Players from Stamford come out of the middle school programs which all have their own systems. Even if they could get the youth programs to sync with the high school, which high schools would they sync with, Stamford or Westhill?
The records for teams the last 15 years are very similar to the records of the last five years. Same teams at the top, same at the bottom, same teams in the middle.
The ADs from the top schools fear a tiered approach similar to the SCC would lead to the top teams cannibalizing each other, but the facts show something different.
The SCC plays with the top teams in one tier and the bottom teams in another.
Not only did this not hurt the SCC schools in terms of state rankings, it helped them.
Shelton (8-2) finished ahead of Ridgefield (8-2) in the Class LL standings because of their strength of schedule. Same for SCC schools Fairfield Prep and Cheshire who were ahead of the FCIAC’s Greenwich heading into Thanksgiving morning.
In Class L, Notre Dame-West Haven finished ahead of four other 7-3 schools thanks to playing in the SCC’s Teir I.
The SCC schools have benefited from playing a schedule against all the other best schools.
It is also safe to assume that going through those weekly tests makes them better teams entering the playoffs.
At the end of last season, a plan was presented to the FCIAC which would split the league into four divisions based on recent success.
The plan laid out records for teams over the last 12, six and three seasons and divided the teams based on their records.
It basically works like this: There would be four divisions based on win/loss records with the top teams in Division 1 and the bottom teams in Division 4.
The teams in Division 1 would play each other, and could play teams from divisions 2 and 3 but not 4.
Conversely, teams in Division 4 would only play teams in divisions 2 and 3, thus ensuring the top four never face the bottom five.
The idea was never given much consideration last year, but now is the time to look at it or at least something similar.
Four divisions may not work, but there have been two and three division models that seem equitable.
The FCIAC does not have a football schedule in place as of this moment, and it would be wise of the conference to consider something new because the disparity has gone on too long.
There might be grumbling up front, but ultimately teams would see the benefits of competitive games and increased attendance.
If you made two tiers based on the FCIAC records the last five years, they would look like this.
Tier 1: Darien, New Canaan, St. Joseph, Staples, Greenwich, Ridgefield, Trumbull, Trinity Catholic
Tier 2: McMahon, Norwalk, Stamford, Wilton, Westhill, Danbury, Warde, Ludlowe, Central
If you took the records from the last 15 years the positioning of some teams in each tier would change, but only Trinity and McMahon would swap spots between tiers.
A two-tier model will mean there would still be at least two cross-over games between the top and bottom tiers, but that is better than what is going on now and makes weekly competitive games for everyone possible.
Now is the time, FCIAC.
Do the right thing and make FCIAC football fun again.