by Bill Murphy

There is a big week ahead in Vermont sports and many people are eagerly awaiting outcomes of both the on and off the field/court variety. High school sports alignments always cause a stir, while this years’ University of Vermont Mens’ Basketball team is another, waiting to happen successful rendition. Both of those subjects have important days ahead.

The Vermont Independent Football League has had their traditional realignment committee working behind the scenes for awhile now, hoping to come up with a plan that could please the overwhelming majority. Anyone who has followed this activity for even a short time, knows that no matter what they propose, the document will have more than it’s share of critics. We personally believe, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that by far the best system, is a four division set-up, BUT, even if the Vermont Principals Association would go along with that, many would criticize that as well.

Taking this whole realignment stuff VERY SERIOUSLY, we kept track of the action closely this fall. During the regular season, there were 132 games played across all divisions. More than half of those games (52%) in each case) saw the winning team score 40 points or more and the losing team score under 10. That’s right 52%.

Taking things a step further, in only 17% of the games, that is less than one out of every five, was the final score closer than 14 points. The winning teams put up 5073 points on the scoreboard and the losing teams tallied 1416. That means over the 132 contests, the average score per game was 38.4 to 10.7. As I customarily reported throughout the season, that meant every game was a lot to a little. That is unacceptable.The VPA and the football coaches have to find a better way.

A meeting was held at Hartford High School a couple of days before Thanksgiving and the realignment committee gave their report. Their presentation proposed a system that would have 12 teams in Division I, 12 teams in Division II and 8 teams in Division III. They submitted the idea that similar criteria for determining these divisions be utilized as has been in the past, which is student boy count in a school, number of players in the schools football program (this time graduating seniors would not be included) and program success ( in the past winning percentage had been used/ this time QPR was inserted). This time around though the committee weighted some of the criteria to give more importance to the categories they felt were most important, showing importance by the respective order the three specifics were listed, thus boy count was considered the most important of the three and so on down. Once those numbers were crunched, the top 12 were placed in D-I, the next 12 in D-II and the remaining 8 in D-III.

Those numbers created a D-I League of Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans, Brattleboro, Burlington, Champlain Valley Union, Colchester, Essex, Hartford, Middlebury, Mount Mansfield, Rutland, South Burlington and St. Johnsbury, a D-II League of Bellows Falls, Burr + Burton, Fair Haven, Lyndon, Milton, Mount Anthony, Mount Abraham, North Country, Otter Valley Rice, Spaulding, and Union 32 and a D-III League composed of Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax, Mill River, Missisquoi, Oxbow, Poultney/ Mount Saint Joseph, Springfield, Windsor and Woodstock.

The proposed alignment would find its existence reduced to one season, instead of the customary two, with the hope of making a new alignment each year, more suited to the benefit of all schools involved. Teams have always been able to petition up a division from the original proposal made and sometimes teams have been allowed to petition down. The new proposal still favors teams ability to petition up, BUT, would recommend for those who wish to petition down, that they be declared ineligible for post season play. A couple of reasons for petitioning down have always been, our program cannot compete against certain programs OR more sympathetically (and often very true) a safety issue. IF the safety issue is a true representation, you may still petition down and play football in a division best suited for your program, BUT, IF you petition down, you are not eligible to compete in that division for post season play. This clause, if accepted, will likely eliminate all the petition down requests and in most cases I can think of, is a very good clause.

IF you have digested everything above, this proposal is expected to be the starting point for all the states Athletic Directors today, as they went to work on the 2017 Football alignment. This is what we expect will happen today:

No teams will request to transfer down. Rice will petition the group to transfer up. This move is likely to be surprising to most readers because two years ago, Rice fought long and hard, utilizing several unsuccessful appeals petitioning down. Burlington made the same petition and was accepted at the time. Burlington has qualified for the play-offs each of the past two years in D-II, after nine straight years of not qualifying for the post season in D-I. For what it is worth, this corner liked the presence of Burlington in D-II and thinks it is the appropriate place for the Seahorses, BUT, don’t expect them to be any place, except D-I next year.

When the voices have finished all debate in the meeting rooms of the Vermont Principals Association this morning I think the final product will line up very closely with the document presented to the body. I believe the Rice petition up will be accepted, Mount Mansfield will then be slid down to D-II and the one year experiment will be under way.

I know there is still one question left out there. WHY, is Rice petitioning up, after fighting the move up so vehemently just two short years ago? IF you are a regular reader of this column you already know. We quoted Rice head coach Neil Brodeur during the 2016 season saying that he felt that the challenges of the D-I schedule and overall play of the division, had been a good thing overall for the Rice football program and that is the place the program needed to be. The strong play of Brodeur’s team down the stretch proved that out, so that is why I predicted the above outcome of the meeting.

STAY TUNED!! There will be a great deal of discussion this morning and in the end, anything could happen.

UVM CATAMOUNT BASKETBALL- The 2016-17 edition of UVM Basketball could be one of those teams, which doesn’t just qualify for the NCAA Tournament, BUT, they could actually win a game. It all comes down to who they meet when the bell rings in March. On the surface, they are the best team in America East and IF they play to their potential during the Conference Tournament and match-up with a team which suits their style in the first round of the NCAA’s, they could make some noise. You ask what about the South Carolina game then? They couldn’t push them to the limit. Well, the combination of the homecourt advantage and a team that UVM didn’t match-up well against, created a night not to remember. HOWEVER, IF this team continues to grow and move forward, there could be some surprises ahead.

By the way, on the surface, America East is much stronger than I expected this year. I thought, it was Vermont, a space to breathe, then New Hampshire and then another space to breathe and then Albany and a large space between the Great Danes and the rest of the pack. WELL, let me tell you, it is Vermont, New Hampshire and then Albany with little space in between and then, much improved UMBC and Binghamton not far behind them. Actually, the news of more competition in the conference is good news, because the Cats of John Becker will have to work harder night in and night out and will get only better IF they do that, as we expect they will.

Moving ahead, UVM followers have three home games coming up in the next eleven days and strong support could boost this team to three imprtant victories. Dartmouth comes to town Wednesday night in a trap game. This will be the first game after South Carolina, and the Cats might take Dartmouth for granted with their 0-6 record and without their best player, Evan Boudreau . A large crowd might boost the Vermonters to the point they can’t let down. The following two home contests on consecutive Saturdays (10th and 17th) at 1 p.m. are against teams who can compete regularly with the Cats, (Northeastern / Eastern Michigan) BUT, have been inconsistent at best, early this season. THUS,these are games of tremendous importance, which could make a big difference in the Cats seeding in whatever post season tournament they end up playing in. Building the resume is always a part of the game.

Becker really likes his team and pointed out following the big home game victory over Yale at Patrick that, “this is a group of guys who has one goal and they don’t care how we get there. It has been an unselfish group and really focused and a fun team to coach and I am glad they are starting to see the rewards that their hard work and their unselfishness has things going their way a little bit.” That goal is to win as many games as they can and large home crowds turning out, can let you be a part of that action.