The Niagara Falls boys basketball team, which had been an independent the last few years, is back in the Niagara Frontier League this season.
With apologies to the Bad News Bears . . . what does that mean?
Bad news for the Niagara Frontier League!
Actually, it's bad news for the Niagara Falls program, other teams in Western New York and local basketball fans in general.
Niagara Falls, with Player of the Year Jonathan Flynn back for his senior year, should be a heavy favorite in most NFL games and there will likely be more blowouts than not. Nobody likes blowouts.
The team administering them doesn't learn a whole lot, either. For a team trying to reach its fourth straight state championship game, it would help them to play better competition, locally or beyond.
Committing to 14 NFL games means Falls can only schedule a maximum of six nonleaguers. Those add up quick when Falls hosts its own tournament, plays in the prestigious Big Apple Shootout in New York City (two games), the Primetime Shootout (one game) and Sunday's HoopHall Classic in Syracuse (one game).
One regrettable result of the scheduling is that the Falls will not play St. Joe's this season. That game had been an excellent annual event at Niagara University. Check out the first large school poll of the season: six first-place votes for St. Joe's, four for Falls. Unfortunately, fans will have to wonder all season about how they'd do on the court.
The rest of the NFL, meanwhile, didn't mind Falls' absence the last few years. It wasn't about a shallow fear of a superpower stomping their way to the title, it was about having a more competitive league race, and ultimately a more rewarding experience for the remaining seven NFL teams and their athletes. Now, it's back to playing for second place.
Dan Bazzani, who stepped down from coaching this season but is still Falls' athletic director, said he went back to the league because the NFL, understandably, didn't want to wait and see if Falls was going to be in or out each year and requested a three- to five-year commitment.
Bazzani was concerned about the complications and expense in going it alone, because it can be difficult to put together an independent schedule and the travel costs can add up.
But the extra work would be worth it -- for everyone. Falls could pick up some single games against NFL teams (as it did the last two years), and it could make up more than half of the former NFL dates in fan-pleasing, budget-friendly, home-and-home matchups against the best of Western New York (how about St. Joe's, Canisius and two of the best Yale Cup teams?)
The reason Falls is always so good is that there is always someone coming next. Goodbye Flynn, hello Rashon Tabb. While every player won't be Paul Harris and while every team won't be the 2004 state champions, Falls will always be very good. Ask Demondi Johnson or Dewitt Doss or Tim Winn or Carlos Bradberry.
Bazzani says it's possible that Falls could declare its independence again in the future. That would be good news for all.
Another great Challenge
For the fourth straight year, St. Mary's athletic director Kevin Kelleher is hosting the AdPro Team Sports Monsignor Martin-ECIC Challenge. The event begins Thursday and consists of seven great basketball matchups between Catholic and public schools.
And for the fourth straight year, this high school sports reporter wonders out loud: why can't football programs in Western New York work together to have a similar event?
Kelleher is hopeful of making a football event happen in the future, a showcase for public-Catholic matchups that routinely happen in every sport in Western New York -- except football. Kelleher has received good feedback from anyone he's talked to about a football event.
Football has shown great progress increasing some public-Catholic nonleague games in recent years. It's time that all Section VI programs -- you know who you are -- work to make it happen instead of coming up with lame excuses.