Jeff Jacobs: The CIAC football playoff formula doesn’t work, and Class L is the proof

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Xavier’s Drew Kron throws a pass against Ridgefield on Sept. 24.

Xavier’s Drew Kron throws a pass against Ridgefield on Sept. 24.

Pete Paguaga / Hearst Connecticut Media

Maybe it will take three Connecticut Technical Conference teams to qualify for the Class L state football playoffs to blow up the system and evoke much-needed change.

If that’s the case, flow on Thames River!

Leggo! Quinebaug Valley!

Ramble on! Ramblin’ wrecks from Cheney Tech!

Finish in a three-way CTC tie at 9-1 and force the likes of Windsor, Xavier, Cheshire or Hand out of the playoffs. Then we’ll see what happens after some of the state’s traditional powers find themselves putting the pads in storage before Thanksgiving dinner.

Maybe one CTC team gets the 4 seed, another the 5 seed and the winner plays St. Joseph in the — gasp — state semifinals.

Maybe it will take the resulting collective outrage to make it right.

At the halfway point of the season, no one should look at the CIAC Class L football points rankings and feel anything close to comfortable. No one who cares about what’s fair and reasonable for the young athletes should look at the system that decides divisional alignments/playoff qualifiers and feel anything but displeasure.

The tech schools have never won a CIAC playoff game. Not in Class S, not in Class M. Usually they are blowouts. And now with the rise of co-ops, tri-ops and even more-ops, the tech schools combined with the smallest public and parochial schools are rising to Class L status. Among the big guys.

There are six among 35 teams in Class L. The three undefeated CTC teams rank second, third and fifth in the point rankings. Top eight qualify for the state playoffs. At the halfway pole it is: 1. St. Joe-Trumbull; 2. Cheney Tech; 3. Thames River; 4. Maloney-Meriden; 5. Quinebaug Valley; 6. Masuk-Monroe; 7. Fitch-Groton; 8. Bristol Central.

We don’t need a complicated formula to recognize the truth. A kindergarten game of “which ones don’t belong” will suffice.

Windsor? At 4-1 and their only loss to St. Joe’s, the Warriors currently are on the outside. So is Xavier, 3-2 with its losses to St. Joe’s and Ridgefield. So is Cheshire 3-2, with its losses to Norwalk and Xavier. So are once-beaten Woodstock, Newington and Naugatuck.

“Straight up,” Mike DiMauro, from The Day of New London, wrote recently. “Co-ops/tri-ops belong in Class L as much as UConn does in the AFC West.”

Pondered Mike’s analysis. Pondered it some more. He could be understating his case. Class L is that absurd.

This in no way is meant to ridicule the tech or co-op schools like Ellis Tech, Tourtellotte-Thompson and Putnam that form Quinebaug Valley, or Norwich Tech, Grasso Tech and St. Bernard’s that form Thames River.

The system is as unfair to them as it is to superior football teams they may replace in the playoffs. Earlier this season, I rode the bus with Quinebaug Valley more than four hours round-trip to the Pride’s game against Abbott Tech-Immaculate in Danbury. The boys, some who live within a few miles of my Eastern Connecticut home, played terrific in victory. When they are on the field, they care every bit as much as the kids from St. Joe’s or Windsor bound to play in college.

They just aren’t in the same class of the L schools.

The problem is two-fold. To solve the first problem requires recognition from the CIAC committees and authorities that a simple formula of boys enrollment figures (with the occasional moving up in class of overly successful schools of choice) isn’t all it takes for equity.

Many kids go to St. Joe’s or Xavier to play football as well as get an excellent education. As schools of choice, there are some competitive advantages. Beyond that, a number of towns have built successful youth infrastructure that feed winning public school programs.

There are some strong athletes in tech schools, but many already have begun focusing on trades, and playing in college is not in their plans. Add a handful of players from small towns and it’s not the same as Cheshire or Madison. It just isn’t.

If the CIAC continues to insist on the enrollment formula — 520 to 677 boys for Class L — without annually reviewing the standing of the techs and co-ops it will continue to fail to produce an even playing field. And failing to produce a level playing field is lazy, inflexible and inexcusable.

To solve the second problem requires all eight conferences in the state to join the Connecticut Football Alliance. Not five. The additional inter-conference games have brought variety and better matchups for the participants. Yet with the CTC, Naugatuck Valley and Pequot leagues refusing to join, the Alliance games can exacerbate the problem by sinking teams with losses.

If leagues continue to insist on playing only within their own group there is no metric to accurately measure their standing.

And with the CTC part of both problems: voila, debacle.

To understand how mathematically problematic Class L is requires understanding of the CIAC’s formula. A winning team earns 100 points for all league and alliance victories, going up to 130 for wins over bigger division schools and as low as 70 for wins over non-league teams from a small division. So when Class LL Shelton beats Class S Derby on Thanksgiving it gets only 70 points. If Derby wins by a miracle, it’s 130.

Thames River, Cheney Tech and Quinebaug Valley each have five of their 10 games against Class M opponents, but don’t lose a total of 50 points (five wins x 10 points for teams one class lower) because those games are within the league.

On top of that, a team gets a bonus 10 points for every win by a team it defeats.

The CIAC also added a new “strength of schedule” rule this year that gives teams an extra five points for every victory by its opponents regardless of the outcome of the game against each opponent.

Let’s use an example. Thames River is 5-0, good for 500 points and 80 more because the teams it beat — Bullard/Kolbe (2 wins), Northwest United (2), O’Brien (2), Prince (2) and Wilcox Tech/Kaynor (0) — have eight combined wins (8 x 10).

Thames River also has 105 “strength of schedule” points because the previous five opponents plus the five remaining have combined for 21 wins (21 x 5). That’s a total of 685 points, 137 per game.

Because the CTC teams have the same schedule, if the top three beat each other in the coming weeks, they will finish with 9-1 records and with the exact same number of ranking points. It would be hard to knock them out of a playoff berth. If they finish 10-0, 9-1, 8-2, one team will make it and potentially two.

Depending on how Class L plays out, this might mean Maloney (4-1) can’t lose to Xavier, Hall or Platt. This might mean Masuk (4-1) can’t lose to Notre Dame-West Haven, Newtown or New Fairfield. This might mean Fitch (3-1) can’t lose to Fairfield Prep or NFA. This might mean Naugatuck (3-1) can’t lose to Ansonia or Holy Cross.

This means Xavier (3-2), with losses to Ridgefield and St. Joe’s, will have to run the table with wins against the likes of Maloney, New Milford, Notre Dame-WH and Fairfield Prep.

At 2-3 after losses to Fairfield Prep, New Canaan and Shelton, Hand stands to run the table and still miss the playoffs. At 3-2, with losses to Norwalk and Xavier, Cheshire still has games against Newtown, Shelton, NFA, West Haven and Southington. Good luck, Rams. Yet you know how badly a 5-5 Cheshire team would beat Cheney Tech? Probably by 50 points.

And, good grief, Windsor, with a lone loss to St. Joe’s, better win all its remaining games to make sure it makes the playoffs.

Consider this: St. Joe’s plays eight LL teams. Cheshire and Maloney play seven LL games. It’s like some teams are playing in the SEC and others in the old Yankee Conference.

Prince Tech, which is 2-3 after losing to the three undefeated CTC schools, may well finish with seven wins. The resulting bonus points would be worth every bit as much to the three CTC teams as, say, seven-win Ridgefield — which already has beaten Xavier and Newtown this season — would be to St. Joe’s. And therein is the shortcoming in the new strength-of-schedule rule the CIAC has trumpeted. A more advanced model — numerous ones are used in the collegiate world — would take into account the quality of victories by opponents.

Sorry, Prince beating Wilcox/Kaynor or O’Brien isn’t nearly the same as Xavier beating Cheshire or St. Joe’s beating Greenwich.

The CIAC’s only rebuttal at this point, of course, would be to play a familiar card: Participation is the No. 1 goal of high school sports.

The smart people involved with football in the state know participation and competitive balance aren’t mutually exclusive and must demand change. The superintendents and principals who oversee it all need to get answers to what is best for the participants. If the CTC — content with the status quo — refuses to start playing some equitable Alliance games, the 11 CTC schools should be placed in their own class. Perhaps a handful of struggling Class S schools or non-tech Class M co-ops could be moved in and out like relegation soccer leagues in Europe to form a 16-team division.

Simply making six divisions based on enrollment, as the CIAC is weighing, doesn’t solve the problem. Not even close.; @jeffjacobs123