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This CIAC decision called for semi tough

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published October 29. 2013 4:00AM

News item: The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's new mechanism for school placement within state tournament divisions has assigned Ledyard High School, a newly designated "school of choice," into Class L for the upcoming boys' basketball season, despite Ledyard's enrollment numbers, which would otherwise be allocated for Class M.

The CIAC, the state's governing body for high school athletics, defines "schools of choice" now as "all schools that can draw students from numerous communities or from outside of their district's boundaries," which includes charter, magnet, parochial and in Ledyard's case, vocational agriculture.

Schools of choice - and only schools of choice - are subject to the CIAC's newly adopted "success in tournament" guidelines for divisional placement. The CIAC defines "success in tournament" as any school that has reached the state quarterfinals in at least two of the last three years. Such schools would be required to move up one division. Any school in the quarterfinals three straight years would move up two divisions.

Hence, Ledyard, a quarterfinalist last year and a semifinalist two years ago, is required to move up a division.

Let me just say this: Give the CIAC mad props and bon mots for holding schools of choice to more stringent standards. Attracting students from multiple communities outside their district's boundaries is an unerring advantage.

If School A gets kids from 15 different towns and School B is limited to Sycamore Lane, Maple Shade Heights and Harmony Hill Drive, which one would you bet on?

Still, the "success in tournament" guideline must be rewritten to reflect more profound levels of "success." Does making the quarterfinals of the state tournament twice in three years honestly delineate enough "success" to merit a jump in divisions?

I think not.

Qualifying for the quarterfinals in basketball occasionally requires one victory. A school could earn a first-round bye, win one home game over an inferior opponent and become a quarterfinalist. Last season, for example, Hartford Capital had a first-round bye and defeated Morgan in the second round to make the quarters.

Nothing against Morgan but is beating Morgan enough of an accomplishment to count against Capital in this new formula?

Is it all that implausible to envision a school drawing an overmatched technical school in the first or second round? Or perhaps beating a school that qualifies at 8-12? Maybe both?

I don't want to cite examples from fixed points in time and present them as rules rather than exceptions. But after covering this tournament long enough, I've seen plenty of top-seeded schools - schools of choice and otherwise - barely perspire en route to the quarterfinals.

Seems to me that if schools of choice are going to be held to higher standards, make the standards higher. As in: If School Of Choice A makes the semifinals twice in three years, then by all means, move it up a division. But the quarters? Sorry. Qualifying for the quarterfinals doesn't move the needle enough.

Once again: I come not to bury the CIAC. It's a noble idea, better than the old method, which involved an artificial multiplier of base enrollment that didn't include all schools of choice. This at least attempts to scratch the problem where it itches.

My fear, at least locally, is that this argument will lose its punch because Ledyard has become the region's lightning rod. Opposing coaches and athletic directors frequently huff and puff about what they perceive as Ledyard's practice of using its Agri-Science program for athletic gain. Here's the deal:

Unless you can prove it with your real name, real dates, times, place and events keep it moving. Not interested. You got the goods? Sing. But if you're chafed because Ledyard just kicked you in the asphalt? Get lost. Tired of it.

Besides, Ledyard is hardly the only school of choice across Connecticut afflicted by this. We're past the days of Connecticut going the route of other states that play separate divisions for public schools and all others. This is about the best we can do. The CIAC is almost there. Just one more tweak.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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