Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Football Realignment Thoughts

The 2012 football season hasn't even started yet, but it's hard to not look ahead to 2013. That's when the NHIAA will switch from 6 divisions in football to just 3. That's right, only 3 state champions in football instead of 6. Each division will be divided into 4 conferences, each with either 4 or 5 teams in it. The top 2 teams from each conference will make the playoffs.

To see the realignment click here. Now, here's my opinion on all of this.

I don't say this very often, but...
I applaud the NHIAA for going through with this. It should have been done a long time ago, but I give them credit for finally implementing this new system now. They must have received so many emails and phone calls about this that they finally caved in. Either that or they finally realized how crazy it is for a state as small as New Hampshire to have 6 different state champions. I mean c'mon now, with the current format if you win a state championship then sure that's great but all it means is you were better than 8 or 9 other teams. Isn't a more impressive feat to say you were better than 19 other teams? Now THAT'S a reason to hang a banner up! After all, pretty much every other sport has roughly 20 teams per division (basketball, baseball, soccer, etc.) so why should football be any different?

3 Divisions for football is the perfect number. Anymore than that and it makes winning a championship not a great accomplishment. If you had only 1 division you would have way too many blowout games and you would also have way too many injuries because football is such a physical sport and with just 1 division there would be games with a 280 lbs lineman going against a 150 lbs lineman or a school with 2,000 kids and 80 players on the roster going against a school with 400 kids and 25 players on the roster.

That's why either 2 or 3 divisions is the best amount for football. Personally I think that 2 might be the best number, but for now let's wait and see how things play out with 3. I do like that you have the big schools competing in D-I, the little schools in D-III and the mid sized schools in D-II. This way it is more of an accomplishment if you win a state championship, but it is also more competitive and you have more teams who at the beginning of the season genuinely believe they have a shot at making the playoffs and competing for a title. If there were only 1 or 2 divisions you would have too many teams going into the season already feeling like they have no shot.

This 3 division system will also be good for local rivalries. Now you have Exeter back in the same division with Winnacunnet, Spaulding and Dover. For those who don't know, Exeter vs. Winnacunnet is one of and possibly THE biggest football rivalry in the state. And as much as I applaud Exeter for moving up to Division I to take on some tougher competition (although some years D-II is actually better) it is definitely a shame that for the past couple years they're no longer in the same division as Winnacunnet. Sure, they still play each other in non-league play but since the non-league games don't count in the standings the game just doesn't have the same luster.

Another local rivalry we'll get to see now is Con-Val and Monadnock. For last few years Con-Val has been in D-III while Monadnock has been in D-IV (and this year they're in D-V). But under this new 3 division system they will both be in the Division II's West Conference and will now be able to play each other with something on the line. Everyone knows that the schools out there in the Monadnock region, like Keene, Con-Val, Monadnock, Fall Mountain and Conant (although Conant doesn't have football) are all kind of off in the middle of nowhere out there and typically have long, hour and a half or longer bus rides to all their games. So anytime you can have these schools play against each other or in the same division it is a good thing.

Not only does this foster local rivalries, but it also cuts down on travel time and expenses!

So with that being said, yes I applaud the NHIAA. This is a great move on their part and is long overdue. I already can't wait until 2013 to see how this new system plays out! But unfortunately we are stuck with one more season of this 6 division craziness.

Now all they need to do is...
Have all 3 of the state championship games played on the same day, and have the venue be Grappone Stadium (pictured at the top of this column) at Saint Anselm College. Getting this nailed down should be one of the NHIAA's top priorities right now. St. A's is centrally located so no matter what teams are playing they won't have too bad of a drive. Plus they have a nice, big, new football stadium. It's perfect. Have the Division III game at 1 pm, the D-II final at 4 pm and D-I at 7 pm. This would allow plenty of time in between games for teams to get off the field and for the next to teams to get on there and warm up before the game.

It would also allow the kids to play what will be the biggest game of their life (for most of them) in a college stadium and in front of thousands of people rather than on some tiny field that doesn't even have bleachers or yard line markers and in front of maybe a couple hundred people.

Plus if you do it this way then the fans, media and coaches/players of teams who didn't make the finals get to see ALL of the championship games, rather than having to pick one of them and missing the other 2.

Yes, I know the only issue with this idea is money. You have to pay St. A's to rent the field for the day, pay their people to operate ticket booths, concessions, security, etc. and also have to pay to use the lights for the last 2 games. But c'mon now, if the NHIAA really promotes this thing and makes it a big event they could get sponsors coming in from all directions. Think BCS bowls, but on a smaller scale. Plus each of the 3 title games would have a larger crowd if played at St. A's as opposed to Newport or Hollis-Brookline, so now you're getting more money or admissions and concessions, not to mention souvenir t-shirts, etc.

Let's do this!

My only beef with this system is...
That some teams who are in close geographical proximity to each other and have local rivalries are in the same division but NOT the same conference. I mean c'mon now, we all know about how the schools in the Concord area (Bishop Brady, Merrimack Valley, Bow, Concord, Pembroke, John Stark, Goffstown and Kearsarge) are all BIG rivalries with each other. So you have John Stark, Kearsarge, Pembroke and Merrimack Valley all in Division II with this new realignment, which is great. But all 4 of them should be in the SAME conference, so that they play each other every year. Instead, we have Stark in the South Conference, Kearsarge is in the West and Pembroke and MV are in the Central Conference. Let's fix that, please! Also Bow and Bishop Brady are both in Division III which is fine, but they are neighboring schools with a good rivalry - they should be in the SAME conference! Instead Bow Bow is in the South and Brady is in the West.

You also have those schools in the Nashua/Amherst area which all have good rivalries. In Division II you have Windham, Hollis-Brookline, Souhegan and Milford. All of these teas should be in the same division. It would cut down on travel time and you would have some really good rivalries. And the NHIAA almost got this one right so I give them credit for that, because they do have Milford, Windham and Souhegan all in the same division which is good. But Hollis-Brookline should definitely be in that division too, not in the West Division with schools they aren't anywhere close to.

Also, Somersworth should be in the same conference as Farmington-Nute, I mean c'mon now Farmington and Somersworth are like right next door to each other! It is good that Epping-Newmarket is in the same division as Raymond (that's a no-brainer) and also good that they're in the same division with Farmington-Nute, but Somersworth SHOULD be in that division with them.

Sanborn meanwhile is in a conference with teams they aren't anywhere close to geographically! They're in Division II's West Conference, with Monadnock, Hollis-Brookline, Con-Val and Kearsarge. All 4 of those schools are AT LEAST an hour and 10 minutes away from Kingston (the town Sanborn resides in).

Besides that I think the NHIAA did a pretty good job aligning the teams. You have Hanover and Lebanon in the same conference which is good, Kennett, Laconia and lymouth are allin the same conference which is also good. They also did a pretty good job of keeping the lakes region schools in Division III together as well.

The only other thing I would like to possibly see is Manchester West move down to Division II and either Portsmouth and Souhegan move up to Division I. I just checked the enrollment numbers, and these 3 schools are all around that 1,050 mark. Maybe move both Portsmouth and Souhegan up and another school in addition to West moves down. This would be better from a competition standpoint. If Portsmouth moved up they could be in the 'Seacoast Division' with Dover, Spaulding, Exeter and Winnacunnet - boy would that be fun! And if Souhegan moved up you could put them with the Nashua Schools or Goffstown and Merrimack.

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