Connecticut high school football is on the brink of major changes — some that could affect the playoffs and, perhaps more notably, the traditional Thanksgiving rivalries.
It all comes down to the recommendation of the CIAC football committee, which is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss a slew of possible changes that range from shortening the regular season to starting the playoffs on Thanksgiving Day.
Momentum toward playoff changes began last December when a snowstorm wreaked havoc on championship weekend, which was scheduled for Dec. 13-14. Two of the four title games were moved away from Central Connecticut, and the final game was not played until Dec. 19 — the day after opening night of basketball season.
In addition, the 2013 season was the first to see some teams play 15 games. Five squads, including Woodland and Ansonia, squeezed those unprecedented slates into just 14 weeks.
Those issues have the CIAC on the brink of making the first major changes since moving to the four-class, three-round postseason system in 2010. The current structure begins with quarterfinals the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Semifinals are the following Saturday, and the championship games are the next weekend. Eight teams qualify in each of the four classes.
Some think the second weekend of December is too late to end the football season, particularly after snow impacted last year’s championship games. But in four of the previous eight years, Connecticut saw its first measurable snowfall in November.
“I think it’s a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the games getting postponed,” said Ansonia coach Tom Brockett, who is not on the committee but is one of the state’s more outspoken coaches.
Part of the issue last year stemmed from the lateness of Thanksgiving, which fell on Nov. 28. That allowed for an 11-game regular season and forced the playoffs to end later than ever. Under the current plan, that will happen again this year with Thanksgiving on Nov. 27.
“I wouldn’t mind us seeing us go down to a 10-game (regular) season,” Brockett said about a scenario that could allow for bye weeks. “I don’t think we should be playing more than 13 games in a season. How do you get there? I don’t know.”
Many new plans have floated around on social media since the end of last season, and the most contentious point for all of them is how to handle Thanksgiving. Some want to begin the playoffs before the holiday, pause for the rivalry games and play championships the following weekend. Some want Thanksgiving to be a playoff date. But most still want Turkey Day to end the regular season.
“Thanksgiving just has a different feeling to it. It’s my favorite day of the year,” Brockett said. “I love the great Thanksgiving atmosphere where the winner plays and the loser goes home. Every year there are upsets all over the place. Thanksgiving is a great day for family and alumni.”
Woodland athletic director Brian Fell likes the idea of starting the playoffs on Thanksgiving.
“If some teams can’t play their Thanksgiving teams one year, is that the end of the world? I don’t think so,” Fell said. “I don’t think it destroys the Thanksgiving tradition. But I can see how people would be upset that Naugatuck wouldn’t be able to play Ansonia because Ansonia’s always in the playoffs.”
Fell is on the CIAC Board of Control, which will make the final decision on whatever recommendation the football committee makes. He said he senses the committee wants to leave Thanksgiving intact.
“They want to make a playoff schedule that everyone is happy with and keep Thanksgiving,” Fell said. “It’s almost a no-win for everybody involved.”
Brockett, based on conversations with other coaches, said it appears likely that the usual Tuesday playoff game after Thanksgiving will be eliminated. That would leave time for two rounds to be played on weekends after Thanksgiving and necessitate an increase back to six or eight divisions, each with four qualifiers.
“There are no easy answers,” Brockett said. “You want to balance not eliminating playoff teams. My guess that it will end up back at six (divisions). I know they don’t want to give up teams getting in the playoffs, so I don’t know how they’re going to do that.”