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Opinion: CIAC Punts On Third Down With New Football Playoff Format

New Canaan is one of three FCIAC schools that have unofficially secured state playoff berths.

The most surprising metric that came out of the CIAC’s announced change yesterday to add two divisions and expand to a six-division format for the football playoffs is 88 percent of coaches and 90 percent of athletic directors favored the move.

How was that figure not higher?

Would only 90 percent of children say they favor ice cream?

Actually, talking to a few football people yesterday, two admitted off the record that a state this small does not need six state champions. Yet what coach would not want increased odds at state playoff qualification?

However, a decision that did not need to be rushed because the issues are so complex at least optically comes across as hasty and lazy.

To make sure no good teams are left on the outside looking in, lets just add two divisions and 16 more schools, a 50 percent jump, to 48 teams. And what is so utterly disappointing about the move is, at least for my coverage area and many others, such great strides because of inspired thinking were made to produce the best regular season I can remember in nearly four decades covering the FCIAC.

The football alliance, a creative addition, has matched participating schools from across the state based on recent success to try and provide two competitive non-league games. And from the seeds planted by Fairfield Ludlowe coach Mitch Ross, the FCIAC essentially followed suit, putting together a balanced schedule so the best teams played more games against the best teams, and the weaker programs were not subjected to running-clock beatings almost weekly.

Running a boutique website where many weeks I am the lone available reporter, I pick what I consider the best game each Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Until this year I was subjected to too many games that were decided in the second quarter. And there were fewer impact contests, with long waits in between.

This fall? There have been two games that impacted the state playoff race almost every weekend. The top eight schools, in a season where there are more good teams of pretty comparable ability, have faced off in what has been a round robin of survival. And some of the programs that have not been as strong in the past have three wins and been competitive in a number of other games.

The problem with the state playoffs right now is not necessarily the number of teams but getting the right teams into the playoffs. And to accomplish that there is work to be done. What to do with tech schools that will be taking places at the expense of more deserving schools, leading to the first-round blowouts that tarnish the event. Whether schools of choice should also be placed in divisions based on school size. How to handle the leagues that are not part of the alliance. Assessing the bonus point system used to determine the top eight teams in each class.

It is an issue of extreme complexity, and we are still lacking the analytics from the changes to the regular season that also need to be weighed and evaluated.

It would have been enlightened to do the uneasy task of putting together a committee to look at these varied and sometimes competing items and cobble the best system possible. It would not be perfect because perfection is elusive. But a satisfying dessert to follow the fine main course that is the regular season is attainable.

Instead it just looks like the easiest solution for the state football committee and the football coaches that are part of the Connecticut High School Coaches Association was to put more teams into the the playoffs and create two more state champions.

More needed revenue. Everyone gets a trophy.

Except this isn’t Little League.

I’m an admitted hard-liner who thinks we have strayed from rewarding excellence, in sports and society. At the professional and collegiate levels, as well as high schools, the regular season has been devalued. The bars that need to be cleared have been lowered. Tickets to get into postseason play are too easily available.

I’m also a realist. We are not going back to the future. Lets not make the slothful comparison of football to other CIAC sports that use a 40 percent win percentage as the baseline to advance to the state playoffs. It is apples and oranges.

Staples, Trumbull, Greenwich and Norwalk, since I cover the FCIAC, in order currently are 10-13 in Class LL. All but Staples has had an appearance in the top 10 polls. Greenwich has been a fixture. The Cardinals’ three losses have been to teams with eight wins. While I believe they are the most deserving of the league teams not in the top eight — pending the result on Thanksgiving against Staples — with one more win they would control their destiny, so they at least had their chance.

This is a rare year where a conference has had so many good teams. Not all eight — lets not forget Wilton in Class L — can qualify.

Is this an additional piece of data that should be studied? Maybe not, but I don’t know. There will be skeptics who are always going to be critical of the organization, but imagine if the CIAC announced yesterday that in the hopes of providing the best state playoff possible, it was going to review the past season, have some plans in place, and weigh one more season to try and provide a playoff that would best complement the regular season.

Instead, the CIAC looks guilty of clock mismanagement, forgetting that the game was only in the third quarter.

There was no need to punt.