Monday, December 3, 2012

Rethinking the Realignment

We are starting to switch gears, and over the next few months most of our coverage will be devoted to boys and girls basketball. With that being said, we will still be posting football content over the winter (including college commitment articles and player recruiting videos).

In this article I will elaborate on my opinion on the division realignment that will be happening starting in 2013. I already discussed this topic a couple of months ago, but now I have even more to say about it.

Ok, I'll get right to the point here. So I am still fine with there being 3 divisions for NHIAA football. The problem I have is the division that some of these teams have been placed in. Teams should be aligned not only by enrollment size but how competitive they are.

What I am proposing is this: put Portsmouth, Souhegan, Trinity and Plymouth in Division I and move Merrimack, Manchester West, Alvirne and Salem down to D-II.

Why is this a good idea? 2 words: competitive balance. Let's be real here for a minute. Nobody likes watching games that are blowouts. When the final score of a high school football game is 49-0, nobody wins. And the fact is that for the past several years Souhegan, Portsmouth, Trinity and Plymouth have been blowing teams out on a regular basis while playing in a lower division. And on the other hand Merrimack, West, Alvirne and Salem (in 2012) have been getting blown out a good percentage of the time.

The bottom line is that Portsmouth, Trinity, Plymouth and Souhegan belong in Division I from a competitive standpoint. And if the teams were to be placed in the divisions I have proposed in this article you will have MUCH less blowouts and Divisions I and II would be more competitive moving forward. As a result, high school football in New Hampshire would be a more enjoyable experience for the players, the coaches, the parents, the fans and the media.

During the 2012 season Portsmouth and Plymouth were hands down 2 of the top 10 teams in the entire state, regardless of division. Trinity and Souhegan were also top 10, and if not then they were right there. Trinity and Souhegan both beat Manchester Central, who made the playoffs this year in D-I. Goffstown is in Division I with the realignment, yet Portsmouth crushed them twice this season, including in the D-III title game. And Plymouth beat Trinity twice, so if Trinity belongs in D-I then of course Plymouth does too.

So let's see here, with the realignment there will now be 20 teams in Division I. So if Portsmouth, Plymouth, Trinity and Souhegan are top 10 caliber teams in the entire state, then how is it that they don't belong in D-I which has 20 teams in it?

And it's not like 2012 was an aberration, and these four teams just happened to all be really good this year. They are good EVERY YEAR.

A couple years back Plymouth had the longest winning streak in the entire country when they won 57 games in a row. The Bobcats won 5 straight titles, and were a consensus top 10 team in the state each of those 5 years. Their coach Chuck Lenahan is a legend - he has won more games than any other coach in New England high school football history.

Portsmouth has won back-to-back D-III titles, and they were a consensus top 10 team in the state both years. The Clippers have advanced to the D-III title game 5 years in a row.

Souhegan won 3 consecutive D-III state titles from 2008-2010. Before that they battled Plymouth every year for the title. Over the last 10 years the Amherst youth football programs have consistently been a statewide powerhouse. You would also be hard pressed to find a high school who has sent more players on to play college football than Souhegan. Richie Lapham, Sean Jellison, Steven Jellison, Sean Cultera and Jake Kennedy are all big time players from Souhegan.

Trinity was the undefeated D-V champs in 2009. Then in 2010 they moved up to Division IV and made it to the title game. They only lost 2 games all year and they were to Lebanon, who was the undefeated champs that year. In 2011 Trinity went undefeated and won the D-IV title. And this year they were the runners-up and the only 2 games they lost were to the undefeated champs Plymouth.

Don't expect these four teams to fall off either, as each team returns a solid core of players for 2013. Plymouth returns key players like John Thomas, Colin Sullivan, Jared Kuehl, Kyle Reisert and Justin Robinson. Trinity has Carmen Giampetruzzi, Austin Chambers, Brad Rhoades, Tristan Theroux and Ryan Boldwin all coming back.
Portsmouth will once again be a potential top 10 team in the state, as they return several key guys, including Justis Mattis-Clark, Donovan Phanor, Nate McFarland, Jack Young and Mikel Toar.

Souhegan is definitely the team of the four that is losing the most talent to graduation, and they also have to replace head Coach Mike Beliveau, who is largely responsible for the dominance of the Sabers program over the years. Still, they will have one of the top running backs in the state next year in Drew Prescott, plus they get Seth Learned back from injury. And although they do graduate many talented seniors, the fact is that Souhegan had a whopping 73 kids on the roster this year. So even though they graduate a lot of guys there are plenty of other players to fill in. Gee, I wonder how many of the teams in the 'New D-I' had 73 kids on their roster!?

So now that we have established why Portsmouth, Trinity, Plymouth and Souhegan belong in D-I, how about why I chose Merrimack, West, Alvirne and Salem as the teams that should be moving down to D-II? Well, I try to keep things positive on this site, so this part of the article will be much shorter.

It is no secret that Merrimack has struggled over the last few years in D-II. They weren't competitive in very many games over the past couple years and they haven't made the playoffs in recent memory.

West and Salem have both gone downhill as a result of neighboring towns opening up new high schools. Bedford kids used to attend West, and Windham kids used to attend Salem High. Not only has this resulted in a lower enrollment for West and Salem, but there is no question that the towns of Bedford and Windham are loaded with athletes.

West was a D-I doormat for a few years, then they moved down to D-II once all of the Bedford kids had transitioned to Bedford High and the Blue Knights have continued to struggle in D-II. 2012 was the first year that all of the Windham kids were now going to Windham High, and as a result Salem went win-less on the season.

Alvirne meanwhile struggled for the last few years that they were in D-II. So in 2012 they moved down to D-III and they only went 3-7 on the season.

Alvirne, West, Merrimack and Salem went a combined 7-32 in 2012. Portsmouth, Plymouth, Souhegan and Trinity went 39-5.

Here are a couple other reasons why this is a good idea. With Portsmouth in Division I, you could put them in the 'Seacoast Conference' along with Exeter, Winnacunnet, Spaulding and Dover. How much fun would that division be?! Another local rivalry you could have with my plan would be Salem and Windham being in the same division. You could also have arch-rivals Bedford and Souhegan be in the same conference in Division I. And oh by the way, you could also have Trinity, Manchester Central and Manchester Memorial slugging it out in the same conference in D-I for Queen City supremacy.

Let's place these teams where they belong. If we do, then Alvirne, West, Merrimack and Salem kids will have a better chance at competing. Their confidence will go up since they won't be getting blown out anymore. They will get to experience the joy of winning.

And meanwhile the Trinity, Souhegan, Plymouth and Portsmouth players will now get more of a challenge. They will get to play against better competition. Plus their starters will now be in their all game, instead of the current set up where half their games are blowouts and the starters only get to play for the 1st half.

When two teams take the field, the goal should be that the players on both teams truly believe that they have a shot at winning that game - that anything could happen. Like I said earlier, when the final score is 49-0, nobody wins. But over the past few years scores like that have happened far too often.

That's why the teams should be placed in the divisions that I have proposed in this article. It wouldn't solve the state's competitive balance problem completely, but it would definitely help significantly.

It would result in more competitive football, and a better experience for everyone involved. Let's do it.


  1. Steven Jellison is playing at Amherst College, while I believe it shows what a tremendous student Steven was and is, it is not a Division I school...and I hate to say it but Cultera has yet to see time at Duquense..Sure it is Division 1, except for the athletic scholarships. And overall talent.

    But, I agree. Move your Souhegan boys up! Imagine that next year, Souhegan vs. Bishop Guertin! or even better vs. Nashua South. I wonder if Belliveau (Aka Jesus, ToJo is God) would dust off the ole' headset for one last rodeo!

  2. "Mark," Jellison had a full ride offered to him at UNH that he turned down, and Cultrera redshirted his FR year, had a season-ending injury in camp last season, and played in a game this year after missing spring ball and a position change. Oh, and Duquesne has scholarships and was beating #2 Old Dominion at Old Dominion midway through the 3rd quarter. Don't belittle achievements you could never hope of accomplishing.

  3. My issue with the new alignment comes down to the playoff format and how standings are determined...

    The standings are determined by overall record, regardless of who your "non-conference" games are. So, if Plymouth has 3 bottom teams in non-conference games and Hanover has Trinity, Souhegan, and Windham (for example), then that seems very imbalanced. The simple solution is to "marry" conferences together on a 3-year rotation, so all South teams play North teams one year, for example. That way at least the schedules are the same. Otherwise a power ranking system needs to be put in place. I understand rivalries, but not at the expense of a fair chance to get to the dance.

    The playoff format is repeating exactly what other states would criticize about our state, in that the first round you automatically play someone from your conference in a "conference championship". That is silly for two reasons. One, you already played that team, maybe even as early as the week before. Second, what if one conference is loaded and the #2 team in that conference could dominate 3-4 other playoff teams? It could be so imbalanced that the #2 team in the East conference actually deserves a #2 or #3 seed in the playoffs, but if the #1 team in that conference is the best, it's like giving them an automatic #8 seed...not exactly fair when you consider how easy it would be to simply seed the 8 playoff teams. Almost every other NHIAA sport seeds the playoffs, usually with up to 16 teams, I think we could figure it out.

    Anyway just my thoughts. Bottom line is that teams need to win on Fridays and Saturdays, but we also need to make sure to look for the best options to ensure teams fall in the spots they have earned through talent and hard work.

  4. Agree with Jeremy. Competitive balance should be factored in to the equation. The 4 teams mentioned should be moved to Division 1 and we would have some awesome match ups to look forward to year in and year out.

  5. These teams may be able to compete for a week or two but a full season. No chance. they are to small to have the depth to compete week in and week out with the big boys.
    All this would accomplish is the demise of these programs and weakening of football in NH.