Further Review: Making sense of Section IX football
Column by Ken Cohen
November 1, 2013 The Section IX football playoffs begin today. At the same time, some teams that didn't qualify for the postseason get to play an additional regular season game, one the Section football committee calls a crossover game. This is apparently done so every team can be guaranteed nine games for the season. Except in Class D, where Roscoe, which has already clinched a spot in the Class D title game next Friday, played a game against Class C Tri-Valley yesterday.
Welcome to the world of Section IX (and New York State) football where you can win two games and lose seven in the regular season and still win your division; where if you're Ellenville, you go back and forth between Class B and C from year to year; where Chester, a Class D school won its two league games by a combined score of 130-0 and handed Burke, a Class C school it's only loss of the year, a lopsided 34-8 victory. Yet the schedule maker says “we do everything we can to bring out the best competition."
And where, in a climate of exceedingly tight budgets, we're sending teams two hours or more to play games when they could be playing schools less within 30 miles.
I've said it before, but divisions with four teams make little sense to me when the top two earn playoff berths. That means there are only three meaningful games a year. When you consider that typically there is one very strong and one very weak team of the four, essentially the season comes down to one game for the two other teams. That's been the case for Liberty and Sullivan West for two of the past three years. One game determines their season.
When I asked Section IX Assistant Interscholastic Athletic and football schedule-maker Chris Mayo about this seemingly overly magnified game, he said, "that's exciting." When I suggested that instead of dividing Class C into two divisions of four, but rather keeping it as one division of eight with seven meaningful league games, he said, "we won't do that."
The reason is simple: if the Class C teams take up their whole schedule to play other C schools, they couldn't play any Class D schools. Since there are only four D schools, the schedule is set up to provide playing opportunities for the D teams, meaning they play at least two or three games a season against C schools.
Said Mayo, "We take care of our own in Section IX." Apparently at the expense of the Class C schools. It's no coincidence that no Section IX Class C school has ever played in the finals of the state high school championship the only one of the five classes never to have a Section IX representative in the championship game. Mayo dismisses that statistic as a factor of skill not scheduling. "They just have not been good enough to play in the final game.”
The other hole in the current classification and scheduling system is it’s reliance on year-to-year enrollment. There are distinct cutoffs and if a school loses or gains kids from year to year, they vascillate between classes. Ellenville and Dover have experienced this of late. I suggest using a rolling five or seven-year enrollment average. This is a better indication of what class a school truly belongs in.
The crossover games that are being played this week seem wasteful to me. Not the fact they are being contested, but the actual matchups. For instance, Monticello traveled to Spackenkill yesterday and Onteora visits Sullivan West today. Wouldn't Sullivan West-versus Monticello and Onteora-Spackenkill been more practical games? Much closer in travel distance as well as competitiveness. Now, I know Section IX has a bylaw that forbids schools separated by two Classes from playing each other unless approved by both schools. They are worried that schools much bigger than another will create a mismatch and possible safety concerns.
Well, all you have to do is look at some of this year's results to dispel that theory. Class B Red Hook defeated Class B New Paltz 30-23. New Paltz, in turn beat Class A Monticello 27-7. And Class C Millbrook rolled over Red Hook 62-36. There is little doubt that Class C Millbrook could play with Class A Monticello.
When you're scheduling these crossover games after the season has already ended and you can reasonably measure the skill level of each team, there is no reason why Sullivan West could not have played Monticello. It would have been a much more meaningful game for the players, fans and communities than playing Spackenkill and Onteora. Mayo said Section IX approached Sullivan West and Monticello a few years ago about possibly playing each other and both schools were adamantly opposed. He said it's never been brought up since. This would have been a good time.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” appears every Friday.