CL-SL embark on football co-op
It wasn’t quick and it sure wasn’t easy.
But after over two years of discussions, debates, arguments and compromises, the Colonial League and Schuylkill League came up with a cooperative football scheduling agreement that allows 28 teams to play their 10 regular season games against more opponents from schools of a similar size.
Officials from both leagues announced the agreement Thursday at a press conference at Blue Mountain Resort. The agreement will take affect in 2020 and schedules for the first two seasons were handed out at the event.
“We’re excited to build this partnership between both leagues and to build a competitive football schedule that meets the needs of both leagues as well,” said Tamaqua High School principal and Schuylkill League President Stephen Toth.
The 12 Colonial League football teams and 16 from the Schuylkill League will form four divisions based on enrollments and PIAA Classifications. While Colonial League President Bryan Geist insisted the move was not a merger, the cooperative in effect creates a new 28-team football league that will crown four division champions.
Geist said disparities between big-school programs and small-school programs in both leagues created a need for the creative scheduling.
“We have big schools and small schools,” said Geist, the Northern Lehigh athletic director. “We have a league that’s [Class] 5A through [Class] 2A. We had scores in the Colonial League of 63-7, 52-0, 54-7 and 49-0 last season.
“Every coach in our league that I got a chance to speak to this fall told me ‘we need something to change.’
“It didn’t make sense for a 2A school to go to a 5A school and we already knew what the outcome was going to be. It wasn’t fair to the 2A school and it wasn’t fair to the 5A school. Forty-four percent of our games between big schools and small schools were blowouts. The Schuylkill League had a very similar situation.”
The Gold Division will feature seven Class 4A schools and one in 5A. It includes five Colonial League schools along with three from the CL. (See division alignments at end of article)
The Red Division has eight Class 3A teams with five from the CL and three from the SL.
The White Division features five Class 2A teams and one in 3A. It has four Schuylkill teams and two from the CL.
The Blue Division has one 2A school and four class A teams. It is entirely made up of Schuylkill League teams and included four football programs (Williams Valley, Tri-Valley, Nativity and Pine Grove) that were SL members for all sports other than football but will join the cooperative beginning in 2020.
The cooperative allows more schools to match up with opponents of similar size, which should result in more competitive games and could produce district brackets that better reflect teams performance throughout the season.
“The rankings are now going to be determined on the field,” said Northwestern Lehigh AD Jason Zimmerman, who is also the District 11 football chairman and Colonial League treasurer. “We’re not going to leave it up to a mathematical equation to place teams. It’s not a perfect system, but we’re going to get closer.”
Schedules for division games for the first two years of the cooperative have already been made.
In the Gold Division, Class 4A Northwestern will pick up games against Tamaqua, Lehighton, Blue Mountain and Pottsville in the first two years of the cooperative. However, the Tigers will not face some of the smaller Colonial League schools that have often been on their schedule since they joined the league in 1994.
Northwestern will continue to play rival Northern Lehigh, but that game will be in the second week of the season.
Catasauqua could have the largest travel burden in 2020 as it will go on the road to face Mahanoy Area, Marian Catholic, Pine Grove and Schuylkill Haven. The Class 2A Rough Riders will only face one 4A team under the new schedule rather than the 4-5 big schools it had to take on each year under the Colonial League schedule.
Catty will stay local for the first week of the next two seasons as it will open both against Salisbury.
The Class 3A Falcons picked up SL opponents Jim Thorpe, Tamaqua and North Schuylkill over the first two seasons of the cooperative agreement.
Like all of the smaller CL teams, Salisbury will not have to face as many of the Class 4A teams it had in the past, however it will keep it’s rivalry game against Class 5A Southern Lehigh (the largest school in the cooperative) in the final week of the season.
Most of the Colonial League teams will continue playing closed schedules with all of their games against teams within the new cooperative.
Geist made it clear that several schools wanted it that way because of the difficulty of finding football opponents for independent games on specific weeks.
The Colonial League’s two largest schools, Bangor (Week 2) and Southern Lehigh (Week 5), are the only two from their league with an open week on their schedules to pick up an independent game. Those schools are now free to seek large-school opponents, which they were unable to do in the past.
Several Schuylkill League teams had one, two or up to four open dates in 2020 and 2021.
The cooperative will not crown a league champ, but will crown champions in each division.
Teams in the Gold and Red Division will play division rivals in Weeks 3-9, while the White and Blue face their division opponents during Weeks 5-9.
While Geist handed much of the credit for making this happento Spotts and Zimmerman, the Northwestern AD said it had more to do with the fact that so many of the people involved were willing to cooperate and do what was best for the teams, schools and players.
“In the Schuylkill League and Colonial League, nobody gets offended,” Zimmerman said. “Guys really and truly work together for the student-athelte. I can’t say that’s the same across the state.
“I get to see a lot of football across the state as District 11 football chairman. Some of our best football, some of our best crowds, some of our best atmospheres are in the Colonial League and Schuylkill League football schools.”
He said one of the best aspects of the new cooperative is the buzz it will create around the area and even around the state.
“It’s going to create a new excitement,” he said. “Every few decades or so things get stale and you have to work hard to keep it fresh and that’s what this does.”
Bangor (4A), Blue Mountain (4A), Lehighton (4A), Northwestern Lehigh (4A), Pottsville (4A), Saucon Valley (4A), Southern Lehigh (5A), Wilson (4A).
(All Class 3A)
Jim Thorpe, North Schuylkill, Northern Lehigh, Notre Dame (Green Pond), Palisades, Pen Argyl, Salisbury, Tamaqua.
Pine Grove (3A), Schuylkill Have (2A), Mahanoy Area (2A), Catasauqua (2A), Palmerton (2A), Minersville (2A).
Panther Valley (2A), Shenandoah (A), Marian Catholic (A), Tri-Valley (A), Nativity (A), Williams Valley (A).