An impending change to the scheduling structure for small schools in Section 1 and Section 9 could be a boon for area teams — although they haven’t officially been informed yet.
Athletic officials are in the process of merging the Class C and D schools in those sections into one inter-section football conference. The goal is to increase competitive balance and ease the burden of scheduling, Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association athletic coordinator Chris Mayo said.
The proposal was recently agreed upon by officials in either section, and the Section 9 coaches and athletic directors will be informed next Wednesday during a planned Mid-Hudson Athletic League meeting.
“We just talked about it at our football committee meeting (Friday) and there was unanimous support,” Mayo said. “This was a no-brainer.”
Although the details are incomplete, the framework of the merger already screams success. The teams are expected to begin preseason practice and the regular season on time and they will likely play a full, eight-game schedule.
The small schools in both sections often dealt with a shortage of sectional opponents of similar size, and often resorted to fleshing out their schedules with games against private school teams or schools in larger classifications.
Millbrook High School, for example, a small Class C team last season that has since been dropped to Class D, faced Class B juggernauts New Paltz and Liberty last season and was crushed in both contests.
The aim of the merge is to eliminate the need for small schools to scrounge for competition.
Sections 1 and 9 each have only two Class D football teams. As it stands, Millbrook will face Eldred by default in the Section 9 final, and Tuckahoe will meet Haldane in the Section 1 final. Now, at least, there is the possibility of those four teams playing each other in the regular season.
Likewise for Class C, which has four teams in Section 1 and eight in Section 9, including Dover and Pine Plains/Rhinebeck.
“If we’re lucky enough to win Section 9, it at least means we’ll be familiar with the Section 1 opponent we’d face next,” Millbrook coach Sean Keenan said of a potential showdown in the regional round. His team has lost the previous two years in the Section 9 Class C final. “The opponent there would probably be a Section 1 team we faced during the regular season, and that familiarity would help.”
Pine Plains/Rhinebeck coach Rob Scott declined to comment on the change until it is officially announced.
Mayo said that for Millbrook and Eldred, having the two Section 1 opponents on their schedule will be a “blessing.”
The process began earlier this month with a phone call from Section 1 Executive Director Jennifer Simmons, who pitched the idea to Section 9.
“We spoke with one of (the Section 1) football reps and we looked at it on paper and it was something we could do,” Mayo said of the half-hour conversation. “It made sense for both of us.”
Section 1 teams were overmatched against the private schools that helped fill out their schedules. The Class C and D teams finished a combined 0-9 against them.
Rye Neck athletic director Joe Ceglia has been instrumental in the merger. He has discussed particulars with Mayo. They have yet to divide teams into leagues and create the schedules, but they believe it will be possible to avoid dreaded bye weeks.
In 2015, Dobbs Ferry famously played just once between its regular-season finale on Oct. 9 and the Class C state quarterfinals on Nov. 14. The Eagles took a bye when it couldn’t find a suitable opponent, earned a bye as Section 1’s No. 1 seed, then had another bye built-in between the sectional final and state playoffs.
Chief among the options explored in the past was joining Class C and D schools in a league with Class B schools for the regular season. The smaller schools faced some resistance from Class B schools that were satisfied with their schedules. They weren’t exactly thrilled themselves with the potential arrangement.
Simmons said the sections had discussed a merger for several years. They have not entered into any sort of long-term agreement, but they are hopeful.
“We hope this develops into a longstanding relationship between the sections,” Mayo said. “It hasn’t been discussed yet, but maybe it could even extend into other classifications.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4