For the first time in three years under Section 1’s modified Piner system (or whatever you want to call it), most or all of the best, most deserving teams have qualified for the playoffs. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t one lopsided game last week outside of White Plains-Ramapo and Tappan Zee-Sleepy, and even the latter was still within doubt into the fourth quarter. In addition, Ossining-John Jay and North Rockland-New Rochelle both produced classic finishes; several others had their share of drama.
To that extent, Section 1’s system proved a success after a couple years of amassing more data to use for preseason rankings and tweaking the scheduling matrix to ensure there was enough balance between the strong and the weak. It wasn’t always smooth and stirred up plenty of rancor among angry coaches and players, but the issue of who’s No. 1 (through 4) seems settled for now.
But in the process of filling out a better bracket, schedules have become more balanced, meaning top teams have played more on the bottom and vice verse. With it, scores have become, well, far more imbalanced. With the top teams playing teams further down in their league, blowouts have clearly increased. Yonkers, which pulled out of a Week 7 game at Nyack that was scheduled to be Nyack’s homecoming, was outscored 259-6 in its first six games alone. That included the season opener at Sleepy Hollow where Sleepy played its starters all of one quarter.
I think the solution is a re-creation — in some form — of the developmental league that became so controversial in 2010. Most of that controversy was uttered mostly by top programs in Class A who were forced to play challenging opponents week in and week out. Beneath the din, the developmental league actually produced clear success stories that are still being told to this day. Tappan Zee is in the Class A semifinals. Woodlands is in its second straight Class C final after winning the section last year. Byram Hills had a strong year at 5-3. Pearl River made the playoffs in 2011 and has remained competitive despite strong schedules ever since.
I’ll have more on Tappan Zee’s rise in particular tomorrow, but the reaction to that league was overwhelmingly positive for teams involved. Sure, they eschewed a chance to compete at Mahopac or earn all-section honors, but, as TZ coach Andy DiDomenico said, 2010 “allowed us to catch our breath” rather than suffer the bumps to their confidence and bruises to their bodies playing against a typical Class A schedule.
There are several teams in the section in need of such a breather. To say they would be better served in a developmental league might seem to place blame at their feet, but it’s anything but. Yonkers should never have found itself in position where an injury here or there could impact Nyack’s homecoming. The Bulldogs hadn’t even finalized their coaching staff until August and hail from a district notoriously low on resources. To pit Yonkers against an established program like Nyack in the seventh week of the season essentially set the team up to fail.
I know the re-creation of a developmental league is a sticky subject. Opposition grew so vehement against it three years ago because the league threatened to grow larger than Section 1 itself, particularly in the massive Class A. Resorting to the Piner (or modified Piner) system seemed to respond the concerns on both sides of the argument, but the lingering complications are impossible to ignore. Either teams ranked toward the bottom of their respective leagues have inflated records and, thus, a chance to qualify for the postseason without playing contenders (see: Saunders in 2012), or they face a contender or two or three and suffer the physical consequences. (Riverside, for example, a 1-6 team, played both Tappan Zee, 7-1, and Yorktown, a strong 5-3. Saunders, also 1-6, played 8-0 Rye and 6-2 John Jay.)
CLICK HERE to read my column from today’s paper. As you’ll see, those physical consequences were a debt Byram Hills was no longer willing to pay after a brutal start to the 2009 season. Byram thought something had to change and it did. Now could be that time again.