Change provokes positive and negative reactions.
Monday’s announcement that Section VI football teams will return to league scheduling for the first time in decades generated some chatter.
Grand Island Athletic Director Jon Roth is all in on Niagara Frontier League schools having the ability to play each other during the football season just like league members do in other sports, and like they used to do. The Buffalo Public Schools, however, is voicing its displeasure.
That’s because in addition to not belonging to a football league nor wanting one, the district believes the strides city programs have made since disbanding the old Harvard Cup League to join Section VI might be blunted because of the change. City schools officials said facing suburban counterparts regularly since joining the section 10 years ago has helped increase the college-recruiting stock of its student-athletes.
“We gave up 105 years of history in the Harvard Cup to come into the section and compete for state titles,” South Park coach Tim Delaney said. “I feel it would be a step backwards. ... It’d be counterproductive to the success city of Buffalo football has had over the last five years.”
“It looks very segregated to be honest with you,” said Anibal Soler, the BPS assistant superintendent/director of athletics. “We did share these concerns and they assured us there’s some fairness. Our coaches weren’t necessarily in favor of this and as a district representative, we didn’t feel this was the right avenue to go.”
Despite the desire of BPS schools, enough folks voted in favor of changing the method of football scheduling effective this year. The section’s Athletic Council voted 19-11 in favor of the move during an email vote conducted Dec. 14 through Jan. 3. Each of the area’s five leagues (including Buffalo Public Schools, even though it has no league) had four votes. The other 10 votes were divided among six executive committee members and four district superintendents affiliated with Board of Cooperative Educational Services, according to Section VI Football Chairman Ken Stoldt.
“No matter what decision is made, we know not everyone is going to agree with it in Year One,” said Timm Slade, executive director for Section VI. “We’re going to be (wading) our way through it.”
“It’s not a pilot (temporary program), we made a move,” Stoldt said. “The Federation is still going to handle all the responsibilities we handle.”
Federation duties include informing schools of rules changes, enforcing roster deadlines, meeting state mandates and securing playoff venues. Selection of league all-stars, along with handling scheduling, gets turned over to the leagues.
A new Point Rating Index will determine postseason seeding in each of the five classifications. However, it’s different than the old Harbin Points System that used to seed teams for the postseason.
The example Stoldt provided is as follows:
If two teams in the same class played each other – the winner would receive a point plus however many points its opponent has already amassed and continues to accumulate throughout the season. Same formula if a smaller school beats a bigger school except the winner gets an extra half point for the win. Same formula applies if a Section VI team plays a foe from another section in the state. If a school beats a member of the Monsignor Martin Association or from another state, there is the potential for earning bonus points based on the opponent’s respective classification.
“We are pleased with the outcome,” Niagara Falls Athletic Director Joe Contento said. “We are excited to play our league opponents again. I think we have a strong league and it will be great competition for us.”
Falls would be the only Class AA team in the NFL as Lockport’s enrollment numbers dropped it from AA into Class A. Most of the NFL’s members, except Class B-sized Lewiston-Porter, are Class A schools. However, in recent years, Niagara Wheatfield has bounced from Class AA to A in size.
“Both systems have merit,” Stoldt said of Federation versus league scheduling. “This isn’t just something the Federation dreamed up. We’ve had coaches ask us to go back for a while.
“We are creating more stability for the leagues, trying to get some of the traditional games back,” Stoldt said of the pros for the change in procedure. “Trying to get attendance up, reduce travel. … Trying to reduce teams from bopping to division to division each year. If things go well, eventually we can do a two-year schedule (formula) where we can just flip flop."
While that may work for the NFL, Erie County Interscholastic Conference, Niagara-Orleans League and the southern tier-based CCAA, the inner-city Buffalo schools who have either been members of Class AA, Class A North/South or one of the many Class B divisions find themselves in a pickle. So does Western New York Maritime/Health Sciences, the reigning Section VI Class B champion and only charter-schools program in the area.
While forming a new Buffalo city league seems like the obvious solution, it’s not that easy, according to Soler.
The Buffalo coaches are not in favor of being in a league where they all face each other. The programs range in class size from Class AA (Bennett and Hutch-Tech) to A (South Park and McKinley) to B (Burgard). The five programs are roughly half the number there used to be in the old Harvard Cup as programs like Grover Cleveland, Lafayette, Riverside and East dissolved due to district phase-out plans. Those schools have since been rebooted with Grover, Lafayette and Riverside welcoming international students, many of which prefer to play soccer.
The coaches said their players like facing student-athletes from other neighboring districts. While there would be the potential to schedule some suburban schools in nonleague games, there would be fewer opportunities to play them under the new format.
From a results point of view, city schools have more than held their own playing suburban counterparts.
South Park has won two Section VI Class A championships, a New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association title, five division titles the past seven years and has reached four sectional finals. Bennett won the Class A title in 2016 and has appeared in three other sectional finals in Classes AA, B and C since 2014. McKinley reached the final this past season, giving Buffalo its first city vs. city schools sectional championship game in football. Hutch-Tech and Burgard also have had their moments since joining the Federation.
There also are safety concerns, according to Soler. Though he did not go into specifics, anyone who has attended games at All High Stadium featuring two former Harvard Cup schools know the likelihood for a fight or two in the stands increase as folks sometimes take their passion for their respective school or favorite player a little too far.
“If they stayed as Federation, Hutch-Tech and Bennett are going to play each other anyway,” Stoldt said. “There’s no reason why some can’t crossover and play each other. … If the best option is to be independent, then they can play as an independent.”
Regarding the suggestion of potential segregation: “That’s not clearly the case,” Slade said.
Soler said the Buffalo schools have petitioned the ECIC and NFL for inclusion in one or both of their leagues for football. It’s unknown how long the process will take, but Stoldt said he hopes to have a first draft of the coming schedule from the leagues by the first week of March.
Should the process take longer, Stoldt said the section would adjust its deadline as necessary.
“We have to talk to people in charge of those leagues and see what happens from there,” Delaney said.
Robert Baxter, athletics director at Health Sciences, said he was stunned by the yes vote for the proposal and added he needed to talk to Stoldt to get clarification regarding the Falcons’ options. Under the proposal selected by the section, the Maritime/Health Sciences is slated to potentially be part of the nonexistent city league or an independent team.