By Bill Riccio, Jr.
Thanksgiving and the CIAC
Already the drumbeat is beginning, and we hope that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Board of Control and the Football Committee refuse to hear it. Over the weekend a local scribe put forth the suggestion that it was time for the CIAC and the schools that are members to forget about Thanksgiving Day football in favor of beginning the playoffs earlier.
The reasoning goes something like this: this year Thanksgiving was the earliest it can be on the calendar, but next year it is going to be a week later. That means starting the CIAC tournament’s two-weeks of playoffs in December – always a dicey situation in Connecticut.
Indeed, there is some merit to the argument, but we believe the loss of the Thanksgiving Day game is something that tears at the culture of high school football in the state – Stonington and Westerly, RI still play the oldest Thanksgiving Day game in the nation – and it could hurt the budget-making of individual schools.
No one wants to see CIAC tournament games delayed because of seasonable weather. We remember the Southington-Fairfield Prep championship game was postponed three times before it was finally played about four years ago. Still, Thanksgiving means something, not only to football players and coaches, but fans.
Go out on any Thanksgiving morning to any of the number of venues playing Thanksgiving, and you see the largest crowds of the season. Places that have trouble drawing fans during the year will see huge crowds on Turkey Day. Notre Dame, for example, plays Hamden in the Green Bowl. Because of dangerously inclement weather this past year, the game was moved to the night before. The crowd, which numbers more than 6,000 usually, was nowhere near that.
West Haven had trouble drawing people this year, but we remember years when Thanksgiving drew 7,000-8,000 people. And, we need not forget that West Haven’s annual match-up with Hillhouse during the war years drew in excess of 40,000 at Yale Bowl. Many schools see the gate receipts as a revenue boost to their many programs, most of which lose money. Some include Thanksgiving gates in their budget projections for the year.
Some schools have succumbed to the siren song of the playoffs, and scheduled games the night before. Coaches like to have that psychological “extra day” between the final regular season game and the first round playoff game, which is usually the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
We need only look north to see what has happened. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), the Commonwealth’s version of the CIAC, decided to start its playoffs around Nov. 7 each year. But there too, schools depended on Thanksgiving, and a compromise of sorts came out of it. Thanksgiving games are still played, but they don’t count.
In my association with people from Massachusetts, the games have lost their edge, people don’t come out the way they did before, and in cases where the teams have made the playoffs the games become freshman or JV games. Thanksgiving as a football day is not what it used to be.
We don’t want to see that here. The championships are important, but the Football Committee and the member schools knew that going into the current format. We will have to “weather through” the vagaries of New England climate patterns and hope for the best.
To do otherwise will rob current and future players of a great memory, and see the loss of a great tradition. It’s not a good idea.
Cutting down on long games
Sticking with football, the rise of the passing game through so-called “West Coast” or “Spread” offenses, and now the Run-Pass Option offense has seen the game times of high school contests soar over the last decade or so. Games that once took 2:10 to 2:30, are now taking between 2:30 and more than three hours.
Concurrently, the number of plays run in the average high school game 30 years ago was about 100, mostly runs. Today, the number of plays run in the average high school game is between 150-180. The reason is simple: the timing rules. That is the same number of plays the average college game runs, and the NCAA code plays 60 minutes, not 48. So, as many plays are run with 12 minutes’ fewer game times.
Under current National Federation of State High School Association rules, the clock stops on runs out of bounds or catch-runs out of bounds, and the clock does not start again until the next snap. The clock is also stopped for incomplete passes and does not start again until the next snap. Teams that once ran between the tackles and between the hash marks are running the game the entire width of the field, and with it, going out of bounds more often, or passes are incomplete.
The NFL and NCAA saw the problems very early, and adjusted the timing rules to fit the new realities, the NFHS has not – at least not yet. The NFL has a more complicated system, but essentially for most of the game if a runner goes out of bounds, the clock starts as soon as the ball is declared ready for play. The NCAA code says except in the last two minutes of each half, the clock starts when the ball is declared ready for play.
There are proposals before the January meeting of the NFHS to alter the game clock rules to something similar to the NCAA. We hope it happens. Players’ injuries are centered in two areas in football, with many happening later in the game. Speeding up the game, and bringing the number of plays down a bit (to between 130-150) won’t hurt the game, and the players will not be as tired. The result will be fewer injuries. More injuries happen due to fatigue statistically.
There is a second proposal to go to a 40/25-second play clock, and that might pass as well. That would conform the high school code to what is going on at other levels. It also helps the rhythm of the game, which also helps curb injuries.
We shall see what happens, but the NFHS is cognizant it has to do something, and we expect these two proposals might get passed by the Rules Committee come January.