Eagles moved to D-II in football proposal

HARTFORD — Major alignment changes were proposed for Vermont’s three high school football divisions last week at the Vermont Interscholastic Football League annual meeting at Hartford High School, including a move of the Mount Abraham/Vergennes cooperative program from Division III to Division II.
Although Mount Abe officials accepted that recommendation, alignment committee member and Otter Valley head coach Jim Hill said he did not expect that the committee’s plan for the next two-year cycle would be accepted as proposed when the VIFL meets with the Vermont Principals’ Association in Montpelier on Dec. 10.
“I don’t think it’s going to stand the way it is,” said Hill, whose team will remain in D-III under the plan. “I think there is going to be a lot of petitioning up and down.”
The committee’s proposal calls for 11 teams in each of the three divisions, a change that would allow eight-team playoffs in each. Currently the eight-team D-II has a four-team playoff.
The recommendations call for Rice to move up to D-I from D-II; Mount Anthony, Mount Mansfield and Brattleboro to drop down from D-I to D-II; Mount Abe and D-III champion BFA-Fairfax moving up to D-II, and winless Spaulding sliding down from D-II to D-III.
Hill said Rice, the three-time D-II champion, plans to fight its promotion, while Burlington might also petition to move down from D-I to D-II. He and multiple other sources reported Mount Anthony would like to remain in D-I, and that Fairfax, which has small numbers compared to other D-II schools and only a limited JV program, would like to remain in D-III.
Hill also said even committee members were unsure that Spaulding, which is among the top eight schools in Vermont in number of boys attending, should really move to D-III.
But he said the committee ultimately followed the “Brakeley formula,” which was created by former Middlebury coach Peter Brakeley and equally weights number of boys in each school, number of boys in schools’ football programs, and won-loss record over the past four years.
“It was just the formula, no opinion whatsoever,” Hill said.
Given the debate about recommendations for Spaulding and Fairfax, Hill said he believes that criteria could be weighted differently in the future.  
“What we need to do maybe is keep the formula and change the way it is weighted,” he said. “I would like to see the boys’ count in the school weighted more.”
Hill’s OV program was clearly placed in the middle of D-III by the existing criteria, fifth out of the 11 schools.
“We’re going to play where we’re at. That’s where the formula is,” he said.
Before the past two seasons, OV, a D-III finalist this fall, had petitioned to play up in D-II. But Hill said it made more sense for a program that is gaining traction — 42 male students play football, more than a fifth of the OV male population — to stay where it is, while possibly looking to upgrade its regular-season schedule within D-III.
“Right now we’re building something here,” Hill said. “There are some real good teams in our division.”
As for Mount Abe, the formula placed the Eagles fifth out of the 11 proposed D-II schools. The Eagles have been .500 or better and made the D-III playoffs for four straight seasons, and Mount Abe Co-athletic Director Jeff Stetson said the school had no quarrel with the formula.
“We went through the alignment process and the formula put us solidly in the middle of D-II,” Stetson said. “I think with our cooperative program drawing students from two schools in D-II, that’s an appropriate place for us to be.”
The Eagles ended the season without a head coach and will be searching for one this winter.  
“We’re in a bit of a flux, but overall in the past four years we’ve been pretty competitive, and hope we’ll continue to be competitive,” he said.
The school’s staff contract requires the position to be advertised internally first, and Stetson said a full process will take longer given the start of the winter season to organize and the holidays.
“I certainly would like to start the process no later than the first of the new year,” he said. “Realistically, we may put that out there to our faculty before the Christmas break.”

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