Developmental league lends some relief
Gregg SarraGregg Sarra
Gregg Sarra is Newsday's high school sports columnist and writer.
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You should applaud the decision by the executive board and athletic council of Section VIII, Nassau's governing body, to approve the proposal of a Relief Developmental League for football. The two-year plan designed to help six football programs rebuild and increase roster numbers could be a wonderful remedy for some.
The initiative is to seek a more competitive schedule for teams that have struggled in recent times and need an easier schedule. These are schools that -- even when they're seeded 11th or 12th and don't play the top three seeds -- struggle to find the win column.
But it's not about wins; it's really about being able to compete.
This ability-based conference could help revitalize a few programs and could spell the end of football for others. What if this two-year pilot program doesn't help at all? Port Washington hasn't won a varsity football game in two years, a 16-game losing streak in which opposing teams could score in the 60s without playing their starters in the second half.
Those are the scores the Nassau coaches would like to avoid if possible. Even with good sportsmanship and teams not running up the scores, some programs couldn't compete.
But does having a developmental division for a school with an enrollment of more than 1,000 students playing against schools with enrollment of fewer than 400 students make sense? Probably not, but it's better than what we have in the current format.
Of course, Port Washington will win some games against schools in a different enrollment classification -- but does that solve the real problem for Port? No, but it can open the door for a new beginning, and that's why this could work.
You don't build from the varsity level down. This rebuilding needs to start at the middle-school level, where a foundation and solid coaching has to be in place. Successful public school football programs on Long Island -- or anywhere, for that matter -- need feeder programs, and that's why it's so important to have strong support from the youth leagues and a dedicated coaching staff at the middle-school level.
Nassau County football coordinator Pat Pizzarelli does see both sides of the issue but prefers to look at the glass as half-full. He sees the newly formed league -- which includes member schools Friends, Great Neck North, Port Washington, Great Neck South, Roslyn and Jericho and adds a private school, Long Island Lutheran, to its ranks -- as a solution of relief for those programs and the potential to turn a few around.
"My hope is that this works and doesn't have an adverse effect on our other 50 schools," he said. "These teams will play an eight-game schedule. No one wants lopsided scores."
I applaud the decision by the Section VIII football coaches and a subcommittee that investigated the ideals behind such a move. They came up with a solution they hope works. They're thinking about the players and the experience and how high school sports should be a healthy and fun environment.
"When a program simply can't compete for a period of time, we have to look at it and try to make it work," Pizzarelli said. "So we developed a subcommittee of football coaches to listen to programs who applied for relief to play in a developmental conference. We'll examine the program after two years and see how it impacted our entire program."
Friends Academy forfeited its varsity schedule in 2011 because it couldn't field a team. The Quakers struggled to have enough players in most years, winning four games in seven years. The creation of this kind of conference could help them build the program, win some games, gain some confidence and go back into Conference IV competition.
"The committee did a wonderful job," Pizzarelli said. "One school applied for relief and was denied because the history shows that the program wasn't in the state of the other programs. But if they go 0-8 again, they could be in next year."
The plan could kick-start some programs. But we all know that to keep it competitive, work needs to be done in the offseason and on the practice fields.
Keep your fingers crossed.