Each July, as a large portion of local media descends on Dunning Stadium for New Canaan’s Grip It & Rip It 7 on 7 Tournament, I think back to a conversation I had with Rich Albonizio four or five years ago.
Albonizio, the coach of Greenwich at the time, was watching his team go through what has become a much more popular and celebrated version of what my friends and I did growing up, in yards or vacant fields. One person snaps the ball to the quarterback while everyone else on offense becomes a receiver.
“This isn’t football,” Albonizio groused. “But everyone else is doing it.”
From the winter until players get a month off before high school practices commence, 7 on 7 is played behind closed doors of area indoor facilities and then on what can best be described as a circuit across the country. New Canaan’s event, with 32 teams, has become one of if not the biggest in the northeast.
Each summer once local teams make their way to New Canaan, a debate, most often on social media, begins about the merits of 7 on 7 football. Many writers refuse to attend, sharing Albonizio’s view. Others cover it as an event, monitoring winners, losers and champions.
I’m definitely in the middle ground. In all the years I’ve attended, I’ve made some passing — no pun intended — references to outcomes. I like to get a look at players who will be seeing expanded roles, particularly new quarterbacks. For writers, it is a valuable opportunity to reconnect in the offseason and usually find some interesting story ideas that appeal to readers.
But without linemen, as Albonizio said, it isn’t football. Will the quarterback throwing beautiful spirals unimpeded demonstrate the same accuracy when facing a pass rush? How about the receiver who in the summer heat has no fear of crossing the middle while completely vulnerable.
And if this isn’t the most fan-friendly version of football, it does play a role in getting offensive skill players in synch before training camps open. Darien and New Canaan will have new quarterbacks this fall, so there is value in received repetitions. It is possible the Rams’ starter could be a freshman who will arrive on the wind of considerable hype, so he will at least be humanized to some of his teammates.
In the big picture, football is catching up to what most other sports have been doing for years: expanding offseason schedules that make calendars obsolete. Basketball has the summer AAU circuit followed by fall ball. Soccer is close to a year-round game for some. Believe it or not, the same is true of softball. I can think of a couple of teams that maybe take August off.
There have been countless times after high school games when a player I’ve just interviewed had to excuse themselves because they had practice in another sport. These times are rare, because this new era has deprived us of what was once a special creature: the three-sport athlete.
I have no problem with someone so engaged in a sport that they want to play it year-round. I do have big issues with high school athletes who feel threatened to play in the offseason for fear of losing a starting job or a spot on the team.
The CIAC does not exactly offer a helping hand in solving the problem. Rules about how much time high school coaches can spend with their players have become antiquated. Devising a more contemporary rulebook would at least help in one respect: cutting down on cheating, which is on the increase.
It has reached the point where coaches see their peers commit infractions and either look the other way or perhaps wink, because they are doing the same. And once you get high school coaches away from their players, a new channel is created. With apologies to the good ones who have kids’ best interests at heart, you won’t find a more unsavory bunch than the many AAU basketball coaches whose dreams of running a Division I program fell short and delude themselves into thinking they are big-time.
We’ve strayed some off topic here and the purpose is not to suggest that 7 on 7 football is corrupt. But when kept in proper perspective, it offers benefits that purists might take for granted.