At best, it is a successful experiment.
At worst, it opens the door for other sports to try to manipulate the calendar and invite legal challenges.
As it stands, the CIAC decision to split its boys’ high school golf seasons into fall and spring substantially dilutes the quality of statewide competition.
A total of 51 teams, involving 54 schools with co-cops, will start practice Aug. 16, begin play Aug. 30 and hold state divisional championships Oct. 18. The 51 teams are from the FCIAC, South-West, Berkshire League and essentially half the CCC.
The remainder of boys teams and all girls’ golf teams will remain in the spring. There were about 140 boys golf teams listed this past spring, but some teams have one or two members and others might not field a team in a given year.
“I have been for the move to the fall for 20 years,” said long-time Darien coach Tom O’Donnell, the FCIAC golf chairman and a member of the CIAC golf committee. “I was not in favor of the way we moved.
“I can’t imagine football, lacrosse, basketball or anybody else agreeing to split their season with two state champions and the best teams never playing each other.”
With all-year AAU travel teams and prep schools continuing to cut into various high school sports, will there be calendar switches we previously hadn’t considered?
No, the sky isn’t falling, but forecasts are as much a part of golf as the three wood, so it’s important to keep the radar hot. Split seasons are not the answer.
The debate has gone on within the CIAC golf community for decades. Surveys, with varying results, have been taken. For good reason. Weather, course availability, course conditions, where a player’s game stands at various times on the calendar … there are strong pros and cons on both sides.
Failing to find adequate support, the CIAC Board of Control in February 2020 voted down a joint proposal to move the sport from the spring to the fall. There had been 72 percent approval from the membership schools comprised of coaches, ADs and principals. That dropped to 54 percent when the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors did its poll of ADs.
The Board of Control asked the CIAC golf committee to re-examine another proposal to allow leagues to play in the fall. The committee had rejected the idea in 2019.
“I thought to myself there’s no way they would allow it to fly,” said Killingly AD and golf coach Kevin Marcoux, firmly against a move to the fall. “How can they split one sport? I was shocked they approved it.
“I’m very concerned. Moving forward, is there going to be other schools that have influence over the Board of Control, that it’s in their best interest to move their sport to a different season? There are some states that play soccer in the spring. It sets a really bad precedent.”
O’Donnell said split seasons will be reevaluated after four years.
Said O’Donnell, “We on the golf committee basically were told by the Board of Control either you accept it or we’re not going to accept it in any form and you can’t come back to us for years about doing this again.”
That’s when the golf committee came up with the four-year proposal. Teams have the opportunity to move back and forth if their league allows it, but must notify the CIAC by Jan. 1 and can’t play in the fall and immediately the next spring.
“What we hope,” O’Donnell said, “is more and more teams hear from those playing in the fall that it’s really working. So in four years the majority of the schools will want it and move everybody to the fall.
“If in four years it stay splits, it’s possible that the committee could vote to go put everybody back in the spring.”
Of the 51 teams playing in the fall, only one — Glastonbury — is from east of the Connecticut River. That doesn’t mean, only one school is for it, as evidenced by a 15-4 vote by the ECC, but it is evidence of the sentiment of most smaller schools.
Of the 24 players recently selected to the All-State first and second teams by GameTimeCT, there were 12 each from fall and spring teams. That is evidence there are top golfers from any-sized school and, also, the SCC has decided not to move to the fall.
Amity rising senior Brett Chodos and Ellington rising junior Bradley Sawka finished 1-2 at the CIAC State Open. Both are from spring teams as was Matt Doyle, who recently graduated from Hand.
Division I titlist Fairfield Prep of the SCC remains in the spring, yet the next 10 team finishers at the D-I championship all are moving to the fall. As are four of the top six in Division II.
Said Marcoux, “If you look at the schools really pushing to move to the fall — I haven’t really looked at their rosters — but I’d be willing to bet those kids are golfers. Kids from Killingly and smaller schools are athletes who play golf.
“The top-tier have golfers who play year-round. Looking at the rankings at the end of the year, of the kids who play in the Open, 80 percent come from the big schools.”
This wouldn’t matter, of course, if the sport was played all in one season. Getting there hasn’t been easy. The weather annually is drier in September and October than April and May. The course conditions are also better.
“The proponents of moving it to fall, their top argument is the weather,” Marcoux said. “My biggest argument against is the weather. Not that the regular season isn’t important, but a high school golfer’s season and career revolves around two events: their league and state championships.
“We’ve had some crazy weather, obviously snow in October last year or the year before. The weather is not good at the time when you’re playing the most important event.”
Meteorologist Sam Kantrow of WTNH passed along some information about Oct. 18: The maximum average high is 63, the minimum average low is 42. The lowest recorded was 17 in 1978 and the highest was 84 in 2016. Low 60s, dry, that sounds fine.
The concern is how quickly the temperature drops, the hard chill of all those Halloweens. By Nov. 1, the average high is only 57 and there are plenty of lows in high 30s. O’Donnell said the committee did its research. That’s why they’re starting golf 10 days before other fall sports.
“In the 60s, fall golf in Connecticut is some of the most beautiful time,” O’Donnell said.
In 2019, the NHSGA reported 14 of the 49 states that have boys golf play in the fall, 28 in the spring and seven split (primarily Midwest and Mountain West states). Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine — all north of us — play in the fall.
“So we’re late to the game on this,” O’Donnell said.
With only two divisions, the committee decided no State Open for the fall players. The three-division spring season will have a State Open. There is no New England championship for the spring players. The New England event will be held Nov. 3, although O’Donnell said it is supposed to be on the more temperate Rhode Island coast.
“My team has kids who play football and soccer,” said Marcoux, whose team has won multiple state titles. “My starting five this year has three soccer and a football player. People say go find some baseball players who don’t play football or soccer. It has taken me 10 years to create the program we have. If the entire season went to fall it would set my program back five years easy.”
Countered O’Donnell: “That side never wants to seem to hear there is a much bigger correlation between the athletes who play spring sports and golf than the fall. I coached football at Darien for 25 years. There are more tennis, lacrosse, baseball players that play golf than football and soccer players. There’s a real chance you’ll pick up more athletes than you lose. They just don’t want to chance it.”
The original reason the CIAC went to the golf committee in 1999 about moving to the fall was to balance boys seasons. Remember we mentioned litigation? There was one Title IX case in Michigan in 2008 that involved two families whose daughters played on the volleyball team and argued playing in nontraditional seasons put some at unfair advantages in college recruiting. Michigan re-examined its seasons and moved boys from the fall to the spring.
“The happiest people right now are girls golf,” O’Donnell said. “Their access to courses will be easier. The number of girls teams has increased greatly and it’s tougher for courses to continue to provide free tee times. The public is all dying to play in the spring.
“The Connecticut PGA, the vast majority of the pros, asked the CIAC to move somebody out of the spring to help increase revenue.”
Yet another curve. Play used to drop off after Labor Day, but because of COVID more folks got outside last fall to play golf than ever.
“Will that continue?” O’Donnell said. “That’s why four years can be helpful.”
As an experiment. No more.
[email protected]; @jeffjacobs123
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