The Big 10’s demise could spell big changes for the Suburban Council.
The Big 10 – one of two high school leagues, along with the Suburban Council, to include Class AA schools last year – announced last month that it would no longer continue. The decision to dissolve the league happened shortly after Amsterdam announced it was leaving the league to join the Foothills Council.
“It’s always a sad thing to see something like that go,” said Christian Brothers Academy athletic director Blaine Drescher. “With that said, we’re focusing on the positives.”
CBA is one of six Big 10 schools that are now independent for at least the 2014-15 school sports season. Albany, Schenectady, Catholic Central, LaSalle, Bishop Maginn and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons will also be independent, while Troy has announced it will be joining a league to be named.
Drescher said going independent gives CBA an opportunity to determine its own schedule, rather than having to face a certain group of schools.
“We’re going to have the luxury to keep the relationships we’re familiar with, if we feel we have the competitive match-ups,” said Drescher. “But, it also gives us an opportunity to explore other match-ups against some of the premier programs in Section 2 and beyond.”
Where this could impact the Suburban Council is if some of the former Big 10 schools apply to join the league for the 2015-16 season. The Suburban Council currently has 12 members spread throughout Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties, and the schools are divided into geographical divisions in most sports where they play their divisional opponents twice and the other schools once. Adding any schools will create the potential of splitting the Suburban Council into three divisions and force teams to play each league opponent once in order to fit everybody into their schedules.
“The game limitations that were handed down (by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association) a couple of years back, that really handcuffs us,” said Guilderlnd athletic director Regan Johnson, who is part of a Suburban Council committee formed to address expanding the league. “We’re already not playing non-league games in soccer because the number of games were reduced. What do we do if we add three or four teams?”
Johnson and Shaker High School athletic director Ed Dopp both said they don’t know which former Big 10 schools may petition to join the Suburban Council, though they both added that they expect some of those schools will ask to become part of the league. And both said schools outside of the former Big 10 may also petition to join the league.
“I don’t know who would want to come into our league from the Big 10. I haven’t even talked to the athletic directors over there,” said Johnson. “I’ve had some brief conversations with Steve Boynton over at Schenectady. He asked about the Suburban Council, but that’s about it.”
“This is going to open up a whole window of opportunity for some schools. I wouldn’t be surprised if some schools already in leagues don’t start looking at joining other leagues,” said Dopp.
There were wide school size differences in the Big 10 as it neared the end of its nearly four-decade existence. While it had Class AA schools including CBA, LaSalle, Albany and Schenectady, it also had Bishop Gibbons, which played at the Class B level or below in several sports.
“I think any time you’re going to have a successful league, you’re going to have schools of similar size,” said Drescher. “I think that over time, there was such a difference in sizes of schools that you had a difficult time maintaining competitive match-ups.”
Another issue was single-gender schools. CBA and LaSalle are all-boys schools, which meant the Big 10 dipped in size for girls sports. Those same single-gender schools could create a unique issue for the Suburban Council, if they choose to petition for entry, since the Suburban Council is exclusively made up of co-ed public schools.
“The problem with them (CBA and LaSalle) is they’re single-gender schools, and we try to offer the full complement of athletic programs,” said Dopp.
Drescher said CBA is currently more interested in creating strong schedules for its sports teams, rather than trying to find a league to join, but he is leaving the door open.
“We’re going to evaluate after next year,” said Drescher. “I’ve looked at the programs we offer and how competitive we are against the section, and we won’t rule anything out.”
One advantage to joining a league for CBA and any other former Big 10 member is Sectional seeding. By playing an independent schedule this upcoming season, all former Big 10 schools will have to use strength of schedule to justify their playoff seedings, instead of their league records as in years past. That could lead to some potentially lengthy discussions when the Sectional committees meet.
“There’s always been concerns coming out of seeding meetings about strength of schedule and how it pertains to where teams are seeded,” said Dopp. “I have greater concerns now that we’ll have greater issues with strength of schedule because who knows what type of teams these Big 10 schools will be playing now.”
Still, the opportunity to create a better balanced schedule than what it faced in the Big 10 is appealing to CBA.
“We’re doing it on a case-by-case basis. We’ll evaluate each team and decide what teams we want to play,” said Drescher. “Even with the Big 10 folding, we enjoy playing LaSalle, and we enjoy playing Troy. We’ve had some great basketball teams in Troy, and us and LaSalle have that ‘Sabre Game’ in football every year that we look forward to.”
As for other former Big 10 schools’ needs, Suburban Council athletic directors are aware that their league may be the answer those schools are looking for. That’s why they formed a committee to explore expansion and its impacts.
“There’s a lot of things to discuss,” said Johnson. “There’s not one answer and at least a thousand questions. We do have a year to discuss this.”
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