I spent some time last week checking into the claim that Section 1 and school administrators were scheduled to vote on adopting a four-team playoff structure (among other things) for the 2011 football season. The vote was snowed out last week but has been rescheduled for Feb. 18 — and several angry coaches say trimmed-down playoffs are a real possibility.
One coach I spoke to extensively on Friday morning was Somers’ Tony DeMatteo. Not only is Section 1’s all-time wins leader concerned about four fewer playoff teams, he said decision-makers have not sought the input of coaches.
“I’ve done this for 41 years,” DeMatteo said. “Maybe I’m not making that much sense, but at least listen to me.”
Currently, Classes C and D have playoff systems with four teams or fewer because neither class has eight participants in Section 1. However, Classes AA, A and B all held eight-team playoffs last season.
The reason for change has been spurred, in part, by a desire to provide more equitable scheduling. The number of programs that opted for an alternative, or independent, schedule last season increased exponentially. Although those players and coaches were not eligible for all-section honors, the Class A and C independent leagues held playoffs and rewarded champions.
Coaches involved in Section 1’s championship division have been critical of the alternative leagues. But multiple coaches from the independent teams have praised the experience. Even more teams have shown interest in withdrawing from the championship division and playing an independent schedule.
To counter that, part of the new proposal up for vote on Feb. 18 is the return of the Piner System used on Long Island. The system has been used previously in Classes A and B, but DeMatteo said the system would be implemented in its entirely under the new proposal.
Although the Piner System requires teams to be ranked in the preseason — a major aspect that led to its eradication in the system’s previous incarnation — DeMatteo said coaches are not overwhelmingly opposed to it.
“If it is the Piner System or a four-team playoff, I’ll take the PIner System,” DeMatteo said.
Last season, New Rochelle coach Lou DiRienzo, the head of the coaches association, told me he opposed a six-game regular season. That became a fact of life when Section 1 superintendents voted to start the season a week later than the rest of the schools in the NYSPHSAA. Starting the regular season the same weekend as the rest of the state — DiRienzo’s recommendation — is not believed to be part of the new proposal. Instead, Section 1 schools would play a seven-game schedule and a two-week postseason.
“I think it would be devastating,” DeMatteo said. “They just don’t understand because they’re not out on the field.”
DiRienzo’s program may offer an example of the benefits of an eight-game playoff. New Rochelle lost its season opener to White Plains in 2003 and entered the postseason seeded fifth. Of course, the Huguenots went on to win the only state championship in program history.
Coaches said an explanation of the new proposal said Section 1 is the only section with an eight-team playoff. However, as an example, Class AA state champion Rush-Henrietta participated in a three-week playoff structure this season in Section 5. Here’s Rush-Henrietta’s schedule.
The sub-committee responsible for recommending the proposal for the upcoming football season could present it to Section 1’s athletic council as soon as today. The ultimate vote, however, is believed to lie with Section 1’s executive committed on Feb. 18.
Withdrawing from the state-playoff format is not believed to be part of the proposal. However, DeMatteo is one coach so committed to the eight-team playoff structure that he would rather it remained in place and Section 1 withdrew from the state tournament.
“If that’s the only way we can play an eight-team playoff, I’d be for it,” DeMatteo said. “If it came between the two, I’d rather have the eight-team playoff.”