I spent plenty of time last week and this week thinking about the rivalry games/non-league games, which have become a controversial topic across Section 1 these last few years. Many of you have shared your opinions here. I’ve talked to others in person, and heard from more than a few coaches both this week and in the past.
Truthfully, there’s no right — and probably no wrong — answer. It’s complicated. For every person questioned, you get a different answer. Most people — be it a coach, a player or a fan — want what will benefits them. I get that, but, frankly speaking, it just won’t jive. With 68 teams in the section, it’s impossible to find a solution that pleases everyone.
I’ve heard everything. The area’s best rivalries MUST be played. Save them for Thanksgiving. Fix the rankings so rivals are in the same leagues. Every game must count toward the playoffs. Team A (large school) cannot play Team B (small school) because it’s not fair.
I could poke holes in every single response, but I won’t.
First, let’s get to this: The support for a return to geographic leagues is not quite universal, but it’s certainly strong and widespread. Schools have had their schedules formed based on power rankings for three years. After two rocky years, the results this year have been positive. But coaches, players and many administrators just don’t want to abandon local matchups to achieve them. How many times have we heard Rockland schools irked because they don’t play other in-county opponents? How many times do southern Westchester teams trek to Dutchess or vice-versa to play in front of sparse crowds?
It’s not perfect. Above all, I agree that based on my conversations with folks around the section a return to geographically-based leagues would best meet the desires of the greatest percentage, allowing for the majority of rivalries to be played, the highest amount of fan interest to be generated and the fewest number of miles to be traveled. But as long as Section 1 operates under its current structure, I feel strongly about one thing: Although the application is not always perfect, rivalry or non-league games are a must.
I wrote about the topic in today’s paper. For all the talk about who’s playing this weekend and what will count and won’t count, the truth is the games mean a lot to the communities and, in many cases, hold more value than the actual playoffs.
As you’ll read, Sleepy Hollow coach Steve Borys said it best: What will his team’s players and fans remember years from now, a quarterfinal playoff game at Tappan Zee or that time Sleepy played Ossining in front of thousands?
What really strengthened my opinion was a conversation I had on Monday with Mahopac coach Tom Donahoe. I know the history and the potential of the Carmel-Mahopac rivalry firsthand. I remember standing in the bleachers at Mahopac as a kid when Carmel QB Frank Heitman (the one-time Putnam Valley coach) sketched out a play on his hand down at the goal line and won the game in the final minute. I remember little about those bowl games against North Rockland or Spring Valley or Roosevelt (although I went to them), but I’ll never forget some of those Carmel-Mahopac moments.
That nostalgia escaped me briefly Monday when I asked Donahoe a question about Saturday’s game not counting. He corrected me, bringing up an undeniable point: High school players only have eight, nine or 10 games a season. They are precious, especially games like this week’s.
“When we say a game doesn’t count…to a high school player, every game counts,” Donahoe said. “This game just doesn’t have a bearing on the playoffs.”
And he’s right. Do these games determine who plays for a shot at the state playoffs? No. But do they count? They sure do. In fact, to many they count more than most.