CIAC nixes playoff quarterfinals

Woodland’s Levi Fancher (43) pushes through Morgan’s defense during the Class S quarterfinals in December. CIAC Board of Control voted to eliminate the quarterfinal round of the playoffs last week.  –RA ARCHIVE

Woodland’s Levi Fancher (43) pushes through Morgan’s defense during the Class S quarterfinals in December. CIAC Board of Control voted to eliminate the quarterfinal round of the playoffs last week. –RA ARCHIVE

CHESHIRE — The CIAC football committee has spoken: Playoff quarterfinals are out, and practice contact time restrictions are in.

Those were the two major decisions made Jan. 22 and approved by the CIAC Board of Control the following day. The most notable one came with regard to the postseason structure, which came under fire at the end of last season after five teams played an unprecedented 15 games in 14 weeks — including four games in 16 days at the end of the year.

The three-round playoff format that has been in use since 2010 will be eliminated next season. Thirty-two teams will still make the postseason, but the quarterfinals usually played the Tuesday after Thanksgiving are gone.

Instead, a first round of games will be played Saturday, Dec. 6, and a final round will be played Saturday, Dec. 13. With 32 teams in the postseason, that would leave eight teams remaining after the second round.

That leaves ambiguity as to whether the CIAC will add four more playoff classes or declare co-champions in each of the four current divisions. The CIAC football committee has not decided on a resolution for the championship, but it hopes to do so at a meeting next month.

One of the most important goals of the committee was to keep the number of qualifying teams at 32, according to Wolcott High Principal Joe Monroe. That eliminated the idea of returning to the six-division, 24-team format used from 2002-09.

“There were many people who did not want to see a reduction of teams in the playoffs,” said Monroe, one of two dozen members of the committee. “We worked very hard to get to the current number of teams, which gives more opportunities to more student-athletes. I don’t ever want to see that diminished.”

At the same time, the committee felt that the quarterfinal played the Tuesday after Thanksgiving creates an unsafe situation for teams.

“Playing three games in a nine-day period starting with Thanksgiving — it’s been decided that it’s just too much,” Monroe said.

Monroe stressed that the elimination of quarterfinals is a temporary fix and that the committee would like to find a way to incorporate those games in the future. That will have to wait until 2015, though, while the committee figures out how to structure the 2014 playoffs.

“Will there be eight divisions? Will there be — I hesitate to say it — co-champions? I don’t know yet,” Monroe said. “We will discuss that at our meeting next month.”

Woodland coach Tim Shea said he’s unsure about whether expanding to eight divisions would be a good thing.

“I think with eight teams in four divisions, you get the right teams in there,” Shea said. “Do I agree with four teams in eight decisions? I don’t know. I just go where I’m told.”

Everything about the structure for the upcoming regular season will remain the same. The 11-game schedule will remain in effect, and Thanksgiving will still be the final day of the regular season. The committee nixed the idea of starting the playoffs before or on Thanksgiving.

“You don’t want to make Thanksgiving a non-event,” Monroe said. “If you start the playoffs before Thanksgiving, then Thanksgiving would just be a game with no implications. Nobody really wants to go there.”

The other major development from the meeting was the introduction of limits on contact in practice. Teams will be limited to 120 minutes of contact, plus one scrimmage, per week in the preseason. That number shrinks to 90 minutes per week during the regular season and 60 minutes per week during the postseason.

A 120-minute restriction was also placed on the optional spring practice session, which encompasses intrasquad scrimmages. Shea said abiding by the new rule shouldn’t be an issue for his team, even if the wording of the rule leaves room for interpretation.

“You have to ask, ‘What is the definition of full contact?’” Shea said. “Is it full-speed tackling to the ground? It depends upon the definition. The way we do things, we’ll be fine with that rule. We might have to adjust a little bit, but we’re pretty much there.”

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