BY KYLE BRENNAN
Ever since the CIAC announced its plan to expand the high school football state playoffs from a four-division, 32-team field to a six-division, 48-team free-for-all, opinions have been split on whether the decision took the game in a positive or a negative direction.
Count Woodland coach Joe Lato among those in favor of the new format, which has his squad as one of 23 schools in Class S.
“Every coach, whether they say it or not, wants the best opportunity to get into the state playoffs,” said Lato, who enters his second year leading the black and gold. “Our class is basically half of the NVL, so it almost doesn’t impact us as much in a way. I think it’s a good thing when kids have more chances to get into the playoffs.”
This year’s postseason structure is an expansion that combines two recently used formats. It keeps eight-team playoffs in each division, a layout used from 2010-13 and 2015-21, while also bringing back the six-division hierarchy used from 2002-09.
The result is six separate eight-team playoff brackets that will incorporate quarterfinals, semifinals and championship games starting the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
But it also means that a record 48 of the state’s 138 high school football programs — about 35% will reach the playoffs. There are between 22 and 24 teams in each of the six divisions.
The new postseason format was originally proposed by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association in the summer of 2021 before moving up to the CIAC football committee and finally the CIAC Board of Control, which rubber-stamped the change last November for implementation this fall.
Hamden coach Tom Dyer said that 88% of the CIAC membership approved the playoff expansion, according to a report by CT Insider.
The postseason expansion was one solution to the longstanding problem of ensuring that deserving teams qualify for the playoffs, which has always been exacerbated by
uneven strengths of schedule among the state’s eight leagues.
In many years, a team that went 8-2 or 7-3 in the regular season might be left out of the playoffs under the 32-qualifier format. That will be highly unlikely under the new 48-team format.
Woodland will compete in Class S, the smallest of the six divisions that consists of all schools with an enrollment of 343 boys or fewer. The Hawks are joined by fellow Naugatuck Valley League schools Ansonia, Derby, Holy Cross, Oxford, Seymour, Waterbury Career and Wolcott.
Under the previous six-division format from 2002-09, the Hawks mostly competed in Class SS and won state titles in 2004 and 2005.
Naugatuck, meanwhile, will compete in Class L. There won’t be a rematch against Masuk, which defeated the Greyhounds in last year’s Class L quarterfinals, as the Panthers drop to Class MM. The only other NVL school in Naugy’s division is Wilby.
Earlier this summer, Greyhounds coach Chris Anderson told the Republican-American that a return trip to the playoffs under the new format wasn’t on his team’s mind during the preseason.
“We have to avoid that,” said Anderson, whose team won the NVL title for the first time since 2010. “We have to get ready to make our team better. We’ll cross that bridge if we’re fortunate to get there.”
Forty-eight teams will make high school football playoffs
BY KYLE BRENNAN