Ready or not, like it or not, the football programs at Tolman and Woonsocket High Schools are poised to join the Division I ranks.
Based on figures obtained by Blackstone Valley Sports and decreed by the Interscholastic League, the Tigers and Villa Novans rank eighth and ninth, respectively, among the 43 participating schools, meaning both meet the criteria for Division I participation. The state’s top tier typically houses nine teams.
The final rankings are based on a 70/30 calculation in which 70 represents a team’s win-loss record during an eight-year period that began in 2004 and concluded this past season. During that span, Tolman won 42 out of a possible 60 Division II contests and was awarded 0.6 points for each league win. That brought the Tigers’ total weighted win percentage to 42 percent, good for a ninth-place ranking.
In Woonsocket’s case, the Novans won 38 of 60 league games for a total weighted win percentage of 31.6 percent, which was the 14th best. The win ranking is then taken and multiplied by 0.7 with the total representing the 70-percent of the derivative.
The 30-percent component is based on each school’s 2010 male enrollment and subsequent ranking. Woonsocket ranks first with 950 males with Tolman’s 595 males good for 12th. The enrollment rankings are multiplied by 0.3.
The numbers produced from the respective 70 and 30 math exercises are then added together to produce a ranking designed to slot teams in the appropriate division. Tolman finished with a winning/enrollment figure of 9.9 with Woonsocket just behind at 10.1.
The numbers involving Tolman and Woonsocket are somewhat skewed. Over the realignment stretch, the two programs played eight fewer league games than a typical Division I team, 60 as opposed to the 68 which Hendricken, La Salle, Barrington, Portsmouth and East Providence played. Regardless of the points awarded for each league win – a Division I team earns one full point with 0.36 set aside for Division III and 0.22 for Division IV – the fact is that Novans and Tigers had far fewer opportunities to affect their status.
The only way the Tigers and Novans could revert back to their longstanding Division II status hinges upon whether one of the three teams directly below them in the power rankings – North Kingstown at No. 10 followed by Cumberland at 11 and South Kingstown at 12 – petition to move up. Such lateral movement is only permissible between the last three teams in one division and the top three ranked teams in the division immediately beneath them.
Given that North Kingstown is on a three-year winless league streak in Division I and South Kingstown has gone 8-10 the past two seasons in Div. I, the likelihood of both schools dropping down to Division II appears to be a foregone conclusion.
That lowers the curtain on the math portion regarding how Tolman and Woonsocket, two teams that played one another in the 2010 Division II Super Bowl, are Division I-bound. As Tolman head coach Dave Caito and Woonsocket athletic director George Nasuti explained, there exist many more hurdles to consider that stretch well beyond a bunch of numbers on a sheet of paper – ones that figure to make the next two years, which is how long this realignment stretch will last, challenging.
As Nasuti explained Friday morning, this is not the time for Woonsocket to say goodbye to playing Mt. Hope and St. Raphael and stepping up in class to face La Salle and Bishop Hendricken, two teams that since 2000 have won a combined five Super Bowls. After winning consecutive Div. II championships in 2009-10, the Villa Novans took a step backwards in 2011, winning just one league game in seven tries.
The body count for head coach Carnell Henderson fell off dramatically with Woonsocket only dressing 21 players for its Thanksgiving Day game against Cumberland. There is hope as Nasuti reports that the freshman team finished the season with healthy numbers. Prominent roles figure to await those who opt to play football in 2012 for the simple reason that Woonsocket, and Tolman, will need to increase their roster sizes in order to survive the rigors of playing a Division I schedule.
“It’s a tough time for us because we’re on a down track,” said Nasuti. “What will happen for two years is that it will be difficult for us to play the big boys day-in and day-out. I wouldn’t have had a problem [making the move two years from now], but now I’m a little nervous.”
To undergo a rebuilding process while transitioning to face a higher caliber of competition is an unenviable task, Nasuti feels.
“What happens during a rebuilding mode is that you’ve got to keep them interested,” he pointed out. “City kids want instant gratification. They don’t play for the program. They play for the glory.”
Then there’s the outside circumstances that some student-athletes in city schools have to deal with away from the heat of competition that play a part in just how much time and energy they can devote – the kind that can rob a program such as Woonsocket in taking success and compounding it with even more success.
“A lot of kids have to work and a couple of them are supporting children,” Nasuti said. “I look at one particular player from last year. He had a young child and was working 40 hours a week, but he loved football so much that he was able to get a job that allowed him [to continue playing].
“In the long run, he probably didn’t have as good a year as he could have. Imagine having that schedule as an 18-year-old,” Nasuti continued. “They go to school, they go to practice, they work at night and their grades suffer.”
Numbers haven’t been a source of concern for Tolman.
“For the past four or five seasons, we start out with 100 and end the season with 60. That’s not counting the freshmen,” Caito pointed out. “Winning has a lot to do with that.”
The idea of Tolman moving up to Division I did not come as a complete shock to Caito. With many teams expressing the desire to move down a level, the Interscholastic League decided to scrap the four-year realignment plan, which started in 2010, and reopen the books after two seasons.
A mock realignment took place prior to the 2011 season with Woonsocket ranking eighth and Tolman ninth. Regardless of how the season played out, both were on track to graduate to a new division come 2012.
Tolman was competing in Division III when Caito took over a decade ago. In no time the Tigers blossomed into a Division II contender, appearing in four Super Bowls since the start of the realignment period in 2004. Woonsocket resided in Division I as recently as 2000 when Nasuti was the coach before dropping down to Division III in 2001. The Novans moved to Division II in 2006, the first year in which the division splintered off into two eight-team subgroups.
There have been moments where Caito has expressed a desire for Tolman to clear that final hurdle and become a Division I program. Now that it’s a reality, the coach feels there are some inadequacies that need to be addressed.
“In my personal opinion, I don’t think there are nine Division I teams in this state,” Caito said. “If you break up La Salle and Hendricken and go [two sides] of seven and seven or eight and eight, I don’t think there would be one public school that would have a problem with that.”
Nasuti agrees with Caito that more teams might be willing to throw their hat into the Division I ring if the RIIL adopted the use of the two-tier subdivision format that’s proven successful in Division II and separate Hendricken and La Salle.
“We could live in that forever,” said the athletic director.
In the end, getting placed in Division I is a reality that the Tigers and Villa Novans must contend with over the next two seasons. From his vantage point, Caito believes his Tolman club will be able to hang tough.
“Whatever the numbers say, we’re going to compete and do well and coach the same way,” Caito said. “Our coaching staff accepts the challenge and I think our kids will, too. Let’s rock and roll and see what we can do.”
Echoed Nasuti, “Our goal is to get to [the playoffs],” adding that this sizeable jump in competition will by no means diminish expectations.