It's official. Nassau County is abandoning the controversial ability-based conference grouping it has used in several high school sports the last couple years. Bob Herzog has the story in Sunday's Newsday. Beginning in the fall of 2010, leagues will be aligned primarily by enrollment, the way the rest of the state and most of the country does it.

That means the days of teams automatically qualifying for the playoffs before the season begins are over.  For example, in basketball the teams in Conferences AA-I and ABC-I, the top two ability-based conferences, will all be in this season's playoffs. The story in today's paper and online here breaks down the situation very well.

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I know from covering baseball last spring that the baseball coaches in particular were furious about ability-based grouping and seemed to be leading the charge against it. But the sentiment appeared to be spreading among other sports, which is also touched on in Bob's story.

Every basketball team will be impacted in some fashion from this decision, but I can't help but think of the impact this decision will likely have on a team like Malverne. The Mules are the one smaller school team that has been playing "up" in the ability format. The perennial Class B county champs have played the last couple seasons among tougher Class A teams in one of the ABC conferences and held their own. Sure, they entered the playoffs will a few losses on the record, but playing against bigger, tougher teams helped the Mules get ready for the postseason push, coach Darrol Lopez told me before the season. Now next year, the Mules will be shifted back to a conference featuring schools similar to its own size, not ability. They'll have to get ready for a playoff push a different way.