WARWICK — For the most part, realigning Rhode Island high school sports has been as simple as “see formula … use formula … here’s your divisional assignment.”
The last decade has seen more than its fair share of applying tweaks and adjustments to the actual process. At the end of the day, coming up with a realignment proposal that soothes the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s masses is probably going to remain a never-ending crusade until the end of the time. There’s a strong bet that someone’s feathers are always going to be ruffled.
Why are we placed in this division? If only athletic directors and RIIL officials had a nickel for every time they heard that question from the lips of coaches, players, and parents. The simple answer is because that’s where Team X finished in the statewide rankings after the numbers were crunched and there’s a need for (insert number here) teams in Division I.
There promises to be a new and hopefully improved twist to the alignment process beginning with the 2022 fall season.
How it all shakes down is still months away from being finalized. The groundwork for what figures to be a new day of deciding where teams are placed was laid out during Monday’s in-person meeting of the RIIL’s Principals’ Committee on Athletics.
Change is coming because the same concerns keep be raised by member schools. The way the RIIL’s realignment guidelines are currently written, the league acknowledged that it has very little control over the situations that keep on occurring.
The number one issue that comes up all the time is that schools feel they can’t compete against a perceived higher caliber of competition because movement between divisions is weighed so heavily based on past success.
In January 2018, the Principals’ Committee approved changes to the realignment formula where the official breakdown included the following: 70 percent weighted win/loss record over the past six years in regular season league games, 10 percent enrollment, 10 percent winning percentage in league games over the previous two years, and 10 percent divisional tournament success factor.
Running through a full graduation cycle, a group of talented kids that were responsible for a tremendous amount of success passes the torch to a new group. What happens if that group isn’t as talented as their immediate predecessors? What happens if the new group finds itself in a higher division because of the winning culture that was cultivated by the graduating group?
The short answer is that the new group pays a steep price – something the Interscholastic League is seeking to avoid beyond the 2021-22 academic year.
Sometimes, schools are classified for scheduling purposes. For example, a sport like basketball wants 10 teams in Division I in order to play a home-and-away series against everyone in the division for a total of 18 games. Yet what happens if there are six legit teams and four teams that find themselves struggling to keep their heads above water? It’s an issue the league says it’s looking into.
Behind-the-scenes, the Interscholastic League has been studying ways to classify schools. The early returns have yielded the possible incorporation of a fresh set of variables that would help to shine a light on why some teams are adamant about why they can’t compete at a certain level. From budget crunches to losing coaches, to facilities, to socioeconomic factors … the league’s current realignment formula takes none of those aforementioned items into account.
The league wants to provide some flexibility. The plan is to study some concepts over the summer with the goal of producing changes that would feature a positive spin. The RIIL is targeting to provide a recommendation to the Principals’ Committee by the Jan. 2022 meeting.
“I don’t think we’re going to solve everything, but I do think it’s going to make it better,” said Mike Lunney, RIIL Executive Director.
In other PCOA business discussed Monday, realignments for the fall 2021 season and winter 2021-22 season were approved. The most noteworthy development involves football. Due to Portsmouth requesting to opt out of the State Championship/Power Four subdivision, high school football in 2021 will feature four divisions.
The Division I playoffs will involve one playoff bracket with two championships. The top two teams in each subdivision will qualify for a double-elimination bracket for the state title. The No. 3 and 4 seeds in each subdivision advance to a single-elimination bracket for the Division I championship. Locally, Division I-A includes Woonsocket. In Division II-B, the makeup includes Cumberland, Shea, and Burrillville.
Also Monday, the Principals’ Committee unanimously approved Blackstone Valley Prep’s request to field a girls’ volleyball team beginning with the fall 2021 season.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03