BY KYLE BRENNAN
If there’s a state tournament, the CIAC will find a way to screw it up.
The state’s governing body for high school sports did it again last month when it announced Nov. 16 that the football playoffs will expand next year into a six-division tournament, ballooning into a 48-team field by adding 16 teams to the postseason.
It’ll be the first playoff expansion since 2010, when the CIAC installed the current four-division, three-round format. Previously, there were 24 qualifiers among six divisions.
To make it happen next year, the CIAC will resurrect the Class MM and Class SS divisions that have been extinct since the end of the 2009 playoffs.
They had been gone for good reason. A state as small as Connecticut can’t have six state champions — those are glorified league champs.
Thirty two teams have earned playoff bids each year for the past decade-plus. In many years, including this one, that number might have been too many. Consider this year’s quarterfinal round: nine of the 16 games were decided by 21 points or more, and half of the semifinal games met the same fate.
Instead of rectifying the legitimate, longstanding issues of selecting and accurately seeding the teams most deserving of postseason spots, the CIAC football committee and the CIAC Board of Control decided to fix a bad system by supplying more bad football.
Most of these first-round games will be purely embarrassing, injury risks for state championship contenders and a nice bunch of gate receipts from an extra eight quarterfinal games.
Ah, of course.
There are only 138 high school football programs in Connecticut. When the CIAC extends the privilege of playing in the state tournament to 35% of its teams, it’s no longer a privilege.
But then again, this isn’t new. Almost every state tournament the CIAC runs is a watered-down shell of what it should be.
In almost every team sport, a school needs to win just 40% of its games to qualify for the postseason. In baseball and girls basketball, the CIAC continues to use its inexplicable fill-the-bracket strategy, mandating that the top 32 teams in each division, regardless of record, qualify for the state tournament.
That nonsense ends up in top-seeded baseball teams suffering first-round upsets at the hands of opposing pitchers who won all six games in a team’s 6-14 season. It forces girls basketball teams like Terryville, which went 2-18 in 2020 and was put in the no-win situation of declining the No. 32 seed in Class S or taking a long trek to top-seeded East Hampton for what would have been a humiliating night.
The goal of the CIAC and the committee-seated coaches who make these decisions is a noble one — allow as many students as possible to experience the memory that is competing in a state tournament. But they’ve gone — and continue to go — so far that a state tournament appearance is no longer special.
It’s not an achievement; it’s an afterthought.
But, hey, anything to fill up the bankroll in those Cheshire offices.
Reach Kyle Brennan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY KYLE BRENNAN