Andy Walter of the Delaware State News wrote an article recently in which he noted that schools in Henlopen Conference South will reducing the number of conference games in girls soccer beginning next season, leaving each team with six nonconference dates instead of two. The reduction in conference matchups, Caesar Rodney coach Darrell Gravat told Walter, will better prepare teams for the state tournament and allow them to play a tougher in-season slate.
It’s time for a similar move in Division I football in Delaware. A simple change would benefit the Blue Hen Conference Flight A schools, along with the two football-playing Division I nonconference institutions. Henlopen Conference North teams would benefit as well.
Currently, there are nine Flight A members, and they play a full round-robin schedule. That accounts for eight of a team’s 10 games for the season, leaving little flexibility to schedule, say, a neighboring school that is a rival in every other sport or an out-of-state power that is a real test of a team’s might.
This also leaves the two nonconference schools, Salesianum and St. Mark’s, scrambling to fill their schedules with worthy opponents. What ends up happening is these schools playing whoever has an opening – that would be Salesianum – or sitting at the end of June with just nine games – as is the case with St. Mark’s.
So how can the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association fix this? Two ways spring to mind.
The first would be to get rid of Blue Hen Conference Flight A and Henlopen Conference North for football only and replace them with three divisions including all the Division I football-playing schools. (The DIAA has 18 listed for last year; I’m not sure if the count will remain the same for the next two-year cycle.)
Geography would not matter in this scenario. You could throw all 18 schools’ names in a hat and select the three conferences that way. Call them whatever you want; I’ll just use Blue, Gold and White to stay with the Delaware theme.
We would end up with three divisions of six teams. Each division would have a round-robin format. That would give each team five conference games; the balance of the schedule would be at the discretion of each individual athletic director. If a team wanted to fill out its schedule with Division I teams from the other divisions, it could.
Divisions could be re-drawn every two or three years to keep things fresh. This is all up for discussion.
My second suggestion, should the first not work, is to have Flight A schools play just six conference games a season, with a rotating schedule. This would give Concord, for example, an opportunity to play district rival Brandywine or Mount Pleasant or, if they prefer, a team like Garnet Valley or Unionville from Pennsylvania.
Middletown plays its eight conference games and also has Salesianum and Caesar Rodney on the schedule. The Cavaliers duck no one. But how would they fare against a top team from the Baltimore area? We don’t know. It would be great exposure for some of the lesser-known players. Middletown proved it was in a league of its own in Delaware last season. Time to branch out.
This reduced conference load works the other way as well. Charter School of Wilmington currently takes a weekly pounding from its Division I brethren. The Force are just not the force in football that they have been in swimming. Eliminate two of those Flight A games and let Charter go against Conrad or Dickinson or another Division II foe. Charter has a chance to be more competitive, and the Division II team gets more points in its own playoff hunt.
Are either of these perfect? Of course not. But Middletown could challenge itself, and those downtrodden souls on the wrong end of a 56-0 whooping would perhaps have a better chance of winning a few games. Salesianum would not be forced to go out and schedule a program like Steubenville, where they are as likely to encounter anti-rape protesters as they are cheerleaders and the fire-breathing dragon at the Big Red’s Harding Stadium. And St. Mark’s would not be sitting at the end of June with just nine games on the schedule, reducing its chances of playing for the state title it won as recently as 2010. Particularly with two Division II foes on the schedule.
A move like this requires someone to get the ball rolling, someone who is not afraid to shake things up a bit. Not everyone will be pleased, but the end result will be worth the effort.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
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