FOOTBALL: Dime for a new dozen. CIAC expands playoff picture to 48 teams in six classes starting in 2022

CHESHIRE – Starting next fall, more Connecticut high school football teams will make the postseason.

A dozen more, in fact.

The CIAC Board of Control on Tuesday morning approved a Connecticut High School Coaches Association proposal to expand from four classes to six beginning with the 2022 season. With eight teams qualifying in each enrollment-based division, the total number of qualifying teams will jump from 32 to 48.

The plan was first proposed by the CHSCA to the CIAC Football Committee at the April 22 meeting.

“I think it’s a good thing; we’ve had too many years where deserving teams didn’t get into the playoffs,” Platt coach Jason Bruenn said in reaction Tuesday afternoon. “The coaches want it. Most people want more teams in the playoffs. We have 7-3 teams that aren’t going to get in.

“I know critics will say this will be watered down,” Bruenn added. “This is a small state and there are too many champions. But what’s the difference? It’s a good thing to get more kids playing champion-style football.”

Bruenn’s Panthers are Class L, though Platt is one of the smallest schools by enrollment in the division. Under the six-division format, small Class L’s will slot into Class MM with the larger Class M schools.

Ditto for the small M’s and large S’s. They’ll segue into Class SS.

Something like this would have helped 2019 Class S Sheehan this year. The Titans are looking at the very real possibility of going 7-3 and missing out on a chance to defend their title.

Others, like Southington, one of the largest schools in the state, won’t be affected at all. The Blue Knights are Class LL and that won’t change.

Still, Southington coach Mike Drury supported the change.

"It's good for the bubble teams,” he said Tuesday night. “Teams that are smaller M's or the smallest LL or L, they'll be in the lower division, so that's good for them.

"We knew it was coming,” Drury added. “There was a push for it this year, but they decided to do it next year."

The CIAC has toggled back and forth between four and six divisions for decades, increasing the number of qualifying teams with each change. The number of rounds has also expanded over the years from one to three.

Class LL, L, M and S have been the cornerstone divisions since the state football championships started in 1976. There have been two interludes for Class MM and Class SS.

In terms of the number of teams qualifying, for the first 19 years of the championships, only the top two teams in each division saw the postseason. Like pre-1969 Major League Baseball, there were no “playoffs,” just a championship.

Between 1976 and 1980, there were just the four core classes, thus eight qualifiers. The field expanded to 12 finalists when Class MM and Class SS were added for the first time. That format held from 1981-1994.

In 1995, the state reverted back to Class LL, L, M and S, but expanded the number of teams to 16 by adding a semifinal round.

Class MM and SS were revived in 2002 and stuck around through 2009. With semifinals in the mix, the annual number of qualifying teams during that stretch was 24.

The next major change came in 2010 and it’s held until now. The classes dropped back to LL, L, M and S, but the tournament expanded to quarterfinals, creating slots for 32 teams.

During the current run there was an outlier year: 2014, when the CIAC dispensed with quarterfinals, went solely with semifinals and crowned eight division champions in a field of 32. It was a one-year experiment that was not revived.


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