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Face of CIAC football playoffs changing again

CHESHIRE — Starting this fall, the state high school football playoffs will look different than they have for the past four seasons.

Just how different remains to be seen.

On Wednesday, the CIAC Football Committee approved a handful of changes for the 2014 football season. Chief among them: the playoffs will consist of a semifinal round to be played on the Saturday 10 days after Thanksgiving and then a championship round that will be played the Saturday after the semis.

That indicates the end of the quarterfinals, which were added to the postseason in 2010 and played the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Yet 32 teams will continue to qualify for the playoffs, as has been the case over the past four years, when there have been eight qualifiers in each of four classes.

Does keeping the number of qualifiers at 32 without quarterfinals mean Connecticut football will revert back to the six-class system, with MM and SS back in the mix and an Open bracket, or “Best of the Best” tier, that will feature elite teams regardless of size? A separate Catholic school division?

Or will it be pushed to eight classes across the board?

We’ll see. The final decision on the 2014 playoff format won’t be made until the CIAC Football Committee meets again in February.

What remains unchanged is Thanksgiving. Those games will remain part of the regular season and will be the last to count for postseason power rankings.

Connecticut’s football playoff system has long been a topic of debate and has undergone multiple changes since the state shifted away from the old two-qualifiers-per-class system in 1994. The prime issue has been the number of qualifying teams, which has had the state toggling back and forth between four classes and six.

Another issue has been the dominant programs, be they parochial schools like Xavier or St. Joseph or small public powers like Ansonia. Some have suggested separate playoff brackets for the Catholic/prep schools or an Open division that would enable an Ansonia to contend for a state title with the bigger programs.

Then there’s the issue of weather, which became a factor this past season.

With the changes adopted in 2010, the finals were pushed 2 1/2 weeks past Thanksgiving, the latest they were ever held.

That wasn’t an issue until this year, when a late Thanksgiving combined with early December snow reshuffled the Championship Saturday deck.

Class LL was most effected, with Southington and Fairfield Prep not playing their final until the following Thursday, one night after the boys winter sports season had begun.

Weather, though, was the least of the CIAC Football Committee’s concerns. The tight windows between Thanksgiving, quarterfinals and semifinals — three games in 10 games for those that survive, something that’s been opposed by the medical community since the 2010 expansion — has been the more pressing issue.

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