Top-heavy FCIAC needs to fix its schedule
It could have been called the season of the blowout.
Yes, New Canaan and Darien put two record-smashing tornadoes of teams on the field this year, and it was not a surprise when their starters were resting on the bench by mid-quarter. In any season those two dominate everyone else, but it was lopsided scores across the league that has people frustrated.
The FCIAC was filled with non-competitive games all season.
Was it an anomaly or a trend?
The league records over the last decade indicate it is a more lasting trend, with little chance to close the gap between the elite and the also-rans.
Last 12 FCIAC seasons
1. New Canaan
5. St. Joseph
9. Trinity Catholic
When New Canaan rolls up 42 first-quarter points against Fairfield Ludlowe, it is not the fault of the Rams who are simply running their offense. And it is not the fault of the Falcons who are fighting hard to keep them from scoring but just can’t compete.
Perhaps the game should never have been scheduled?
Ludlowe coach Vin Camera said after that game he wants his kids to see what it takes to be like New Canaan. But was the lesson worth the beating?
Did that game serve either team positively?
New Canaan had the junior varsity in by halftime, picked up minimal points in terms of state standings by beating the two-win Falcons, and ended up on the road as a No. 6 seed in the Class L playoffs because of one loss.
And after getting blasted, Ludlowe got to play a scrimmage against New Canaan’s JV the entire second half.
The great divide
The divide between the top of the FCIAC and the bottom in football has become stark in the last 15 years as the same teams remain at the top of the standings, the same teams remain at the bottom, and the same bunch stays in the middle.
It may be time to consider changing the structure of the league in an attempt to get more competitive games on the field.
Consider that Greenwich, a traditional power, ended up with the toughest schedule this year, facing teams with a combined .634 winning percentage.
Greenwich was followed on the list by Danbury (.605), Bridgeport Central (569), Westhill (.561) and McMahon (.531). Those teams combined for 10 wins this season, with four of those victories belonging to Greenwich.
The difference between Greenwich and those other schools with tough schedules is that Greenwich is a traditional power, while the other four have struggled, at times, over the last 10 years.
On the flip side, Trinity Catholic (.390), St. Joseph (.432), Darien (.469) and New Canaan (.439) had the easiest strength of schedule this season, and all of those teams qualified for the state playoffs.
St. Joseph, New Canaan and Darien are also among the top four teams in the FCIAC over the last 10 years.
Greenwich won four games facing the league’s toughest schedule and coach John Marinelli is glad his team had to run that gauntlet, including games against state playoff participants Trinity, New Canaan, Darien and Staples.
“From a competitive standpoint I liked it better playing the league’s toughest schedule,” Marinelli said. “It is more intriguing week to week and it helps keep kids motivated when they know they have a big game to get ready for.”
Marinelli is confident playing the schedule they did this year will make his team stronger heading into the offseason and next fall.
“Whenever you play better competition there are so many lessons you can carry into the offseason,” Marinelli said. “I only think you can build off that. When you see the best teams you learn from that and when you play against the best you get better.”
Frank Marcucio has seen the league from the bottom up, first as the coach at Bassick and now as the head man at Westhill.
This season, he was faced with a schedule featuring New Canaan, Trinity, St. Joseph, Trumbull and Ridgefield. The Vikings limped to a 2-7 season after beating Stamford and Central, but largely failing to compete against the top teams.
Marcucio recently presented a plan to the FCIAC which would split the league into four divisions based on recent success.
The plan lays out records for teams over the last 12, six and three seasons, and divides the teams based on their records.
It basically works like this: There would be four divisions based on win/loss records with the top teams in Division 1 and the bottom teams in Division 4.
The teams in Division 1 would play each other, and could play teams from divisions 2 and 3 but not 4.
Conversely, teams in Division 4 would only play teams in divisions 2 and 3, thus ensuring the top four never face the bottom five.
Going by records the last three seasons, New Canaan, Staples, Darien and St. Joseph would be the top four, while Central, Wilton, Westhill, Ludlowe and Danbury would make up the bottom five.
In Marcucio’s plan, the teams would be reseeded every three to five years.
“It gives legitimacy to the records,” Marcucio said. “It is the league’s responsibility to make a schedule that is fair to everyone. Right now it is not a level playing field because number 17 never beats No. 1. I’m not just complaining about the problem, I came up with a solution.”
The solution seems equitable on the surface but some coaches of the top teams may not want to play all the top teams, ending up like Greenwich with four wins and out of the state playoffs.
They point to the SCC where football teams are split into two divisions based on enrollment with games played only against teams in their division with one “crossover game” with a top division team facing a bottom division team.
Winning percentages of teams is not factored in and teams are not reseeded every few seasons.
SCC Commissioner Al Carbone said while the system in the SCC has led to routinely competitive schedules, he shies away from any talk of competitive balance.
“There is no such thing as competitive balance,” Carbone said. “There is no such thing because each school has a different definition of what competitive balance means. Does it mean that 50 percent of your games you consider competitive or 70 percent? What is the figure everyone can agree on?”
The SCC has certainly seen teams with two losses not make the state playoffs while teams from a less competitive league get in. But it has also had teams pick up valuable points from playing a tough schedule and getting in to the playoffs over other teams with similar records.
This season, Notre Dame-West Haven ended up a No. 7 seed in Class L after taking two league losses early in the year.
However, West Haven got into the Class LL playoffs partly because of bonus points earned from playing a competitive 10-game schedule.
“It helped West Haven knowing they could get in with two losses because their schedule was better than the teams around them,” Carbone said. “Notre Dame played a murderous schedule and ended being a number seven. If these teams are measured by getting into states but you play a tough schedule and have two losses and don’t get in, is your season a failure? It shouldn’t be.”
The biggest challenge for the SCC is a problem the FCIAC has as well.
Some LL schools are not as competitive as smaller schools and that may be because those schools often have more than one high school and feeder program into the high school programs.
Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport and Fairfield all have multiple high schools. All the teams from those towns, other than McMahon, find themselves in the bottom half of the standings over the last 12 years.
That is a systemic problem that is not getting better, while feeder programs in New Canaan and Darien are in lock-step with the high school programs — and only growing stronger.
North Haven, which is a Division 2 team in the SCC, built its program over the last 20 years by getting the youth programs on board. The Indians now find themselves unbeaten and a top-five team in the state.
It makes it very difficult to compete at the high school level now without these feeder programs.
The teams that routinely find themselves at the bottom also face disillusionment from prospective players and fans as the losses at the high school pile up. What happens then is kids do not come out for the team because why would they sign up for five to six guaranteed losses a season?
The solution probably lies somewhere in between Marcucio’s plan, the SCC model and common sense.
What is obvious is that it makes little sense to have Danbury play Staples, St. Joseph, New Canaan and Darien this season. Wilton and Westhill faced similarly daunting schedules.
For the sake of the FCIAC, it needs to be addressed.
Hopefully when the league’s coaches meet this month, it will be.