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New realignment in football bumps Clippers to D-I

January 3, 2014

Barring any last-minute adjustments, head coach Chris Skurka (second from left) and his Cumberland High football team will be playing with “the big boys” in Division I next season. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

Success can come at a hefty price. In the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, this double-edged sword is sharpened every few years or so when the time comes to realign the divisions.

Caught in the crosshairs are non-Division I teams that have achieved and sustained success over a designated period of time. Add a dash of enrollment and presto, what appears is a surefire recipe for relocation to a higher division.

“When teams win over two or three years and you have these realignments, the reality is that someone is going to move up because of winning records, enrollment and things like that,” points out Frank Geiselman, athletic director at Cumberland High.

Geiselman was speaking about his varsity football program. Barring any last-minute adjustments, the Clippers will be joining the Division I ranks for the next two-year realignment stretch. It’s not by choice that a brave new world awaits Cumberland this autumn. It’s simply the result of head coach Chris Skurka’s crew meeting the criteria for participation in the state’s top tier.

A list ranking all 43 pigskin participants was sent out to athletic directors last month after the 70/20/10 calculation was taken for a spin through the washer. The number 70 represents the eight-year weighted win percentage that takes into account league data beginning with the 2006 season through 2013.

The 20 percent of the derivative is determined by the male enrollment total that was submitted to the Interscholastic League on Oct. 1, 2013. The remaining 10 percent takes into account win percentage based on the last three seasons.

Once the arithmetic checks out – the 70/20/10 formula for realignment purposes was officially adopted at last August’s Principals’ Committee on Athletics meeting – teams are then slotted. Cumberland was sixth in the rankings with Thanksgiving rival Woonsocket finishing eighth.

Geiselman wished to view Cumberland moving up in weight class not in the sense that the program is a victim of its own recent success. The Clippers have reached the Division II Super Bowl in each of the past two seasons, winning it all in 2012.

“This is how you build programs. You get a fan base and the school rallies around it. There’s pride,” said the Cumberland AD. “Chris has a nice program going with the kids.”

There is, however, a dark side to moving up against a school’s desire to remain status quo. Putting it mildly, Tolman High struggled to hang with the Division I “big boys” during the past two seasons, winning three of a possible 16 league games.

Fortunately for head coach Dave Caito, his assistants and returning players, the Tigers’ recent troubles on the gridiron have paved the way for a return to their Division II roots. Tolman finished 15th in the rankings, three spots behind St. Raphael.

“At this point, we can’t compete in Division I. We don’t have the bodies or the size,” said Tolman athletic director John Scanlon. “These last couple of years did a number on our program, but Dave will do a good job of getting them back in the mix.”

Rest assured that Geiselman has thought about Cumberland moving to Division I and not only enduring tough times, but also what the fallout may entail.

“Once you’ve had that success and get that penalty, you could end up with a 2-6 season or something like that and people are saying ‘Whose fault is it?’” said Geiselman. “I’ve seen it so many times in so many different sports where you have a run of success for two, three or four years and all of a sudden you’re off a cliff. But if you’re aligning every couple of years, it maybe levels the playing field.”

Generally, Division I houses nine teams. Eight teams have already expressed a desire to compete in Division I during the next two-year realignment cycle, the list including four-time Super Bowl champion Bishop Hendricken, La Salle, Cranston East, Portsmouth, Barrington, East Providence, South Kingstown and Cranston West. Cumberland would be the ninth entry.

South Kingstown finished 10th in the rankings while Cranston West checked in at 13th. The request on the part of both schools enabled Woonsocket and West Warwick to remain in Division II. Winners of the 2013 Division II title, the Wizards landed in the ninth position, known as the cutoff spot for Division I inclusion.

Mind you realignment for this particular sport as well as other fall sports must be presented to the PCOA for final approval; the group’s next conclave is scheduled for Jan. 27.

Before passing the baton to the Principals’ Committee, the football committee will convene next Thursday with the goal of addressing any lingering concerns and/or proposals that could become enacted.

“There’s some interest in having a 14 to 16 teams in Division I, but that’s the only thing that would be on the table,” said George Nasuti, the Woonsocket AD who’s also on the football committee.

After the Jan. 9 meeting, the football committee will send out a survey that asks whether teams agree with their position based on the rankings. One such request to move up could come from Lincoln High, which based on the rankings would be one of the eight Division IV teams. The Lions have been a Division III mainstay since the 2009 season. The only way to accommodate Lincoln would be if a team petitions to move down.

***

One non-realignment issue that will be discussed by the football committee next week has to do with the idea of all four divisions staging the semifinals the weekend before Thanksgiving as opposed to the Tuesday following the holiday. Division II held its semifinals before Thanksgiving this past season with the decision to do so earning rave reviews.

If such a decision comes to fruition, it would spell the end of league games such as East Providence-La Salle, Cranston East-Cranston West, Burrillville-Ponaganset, North Providence-Smithfield and North Smithfield-Scituate taking place on Thanksgiving. All of those teams would have to find time to meet during the regular season in addition to facing off on the holiday.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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