Column by Ken Cohen
Sullivan West senior quarterback and linebacker Sawyer Erlwein is looking forward to possibly playing with and against guys from Class AA schools in next month’s Section IX exceptional senior all-star game. Said Erlwein: I would love to play against Monroe-Woodbury, even though that would never happen. I would like to see how I compare to some of the players from bigger schools.”
As he’s been most of this season, Sawyer is on the mark. He and the rest of his Sullivan West teammates should be playing two or three games against top teams from higher classes. He’s right saying it will never happen and that’s a shame.
Sure, Class C Sullivan West stepped up one class to play New Paltz this year and they lost in a somewhat competitive game. It was Sullivan West’s only loss this season, but it was the game the players got the most out of. It’s just too bad that because of the way Section IX schedules high school football games, that good Class C teams like Sullivan West only get to play one game against a team from a higher class.
There’s a couple of reasons for this. Section IX football bylaws only permit a team to play one class above or below its class. To play a school two classifications above or below would require the consent of both teams. Since the schools themselves do not schedule the games Section IX does and because Section IX frowns upon teams playing more than one class above or below their class, it’s highly unlikely that games pitting a Class A team like Monticello against a Class C team like Liberty will ever get scheduled. It doesn’t matter that it would be a natural rivalry game, Section IX is very reluctant to match teams two classes apart.
The other big factor in play here is the fact that Section IX only has four Class D teams and basically forces its smaller Class C teams to play them. Otherwise, the Class D teams would have no one to play. James Osborne, Interscholastic Athletic Director for the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) admitted to me last year that “Section IX schedules its games to help other schools out.”
That’s why Eldred from Class D played five Class C teams this year. Essentially, Section IX and the OCIAA is restricting the competition level of Class C teams to protect its four Class D teams. And that’s been devastating to Section IX Class C teams when they play in the state playoffs. Only one Class C team Highland back in 1995 and 1996 has advanced to the semifinals. And the defeats Section IX Class C teams have suffered in the quarterfinal games have been extremely lopsided.
Playing Class D teams in the regular season is not adequately preparing Class C teams for the stiffer competition they will face beyond Section IX. They need to play Class B and even Class A teams in their three or four allotted non-league games. If that means, Class D teams don’t have enough games to play or need to play each other twice, then so be it. Why should the 10 teams in Class C be put at a disadvantage in the state playoffs to help four Class D teams usually only two that are competitive?
In Sullivan West’s case, perhaps the Section IX schedulemaker should look across the border to Pennsylvania for some better competition. I’ve always thought a rivalry could develop against Honesdale just 30 minutes away. Tri-Valley should be playing Ellenville, only 15 miles apart.
In the end, kids like Sawyer Erlwein are getting cheated by the current schedule. They need to play against better players to become better themselves. And that’s what we should ultimately be aiming for seeing our athletes improve and challenged to reach their maximum potential.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies. His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.