The East Hampton football team got an answer from Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk County high school athletics, regarding its petition to drop back down to Division IV, after increased enrollment numbers had pushed the Bonackers up to the highly competitive Division III.
It wasn't the answer the Bonackers were expecting.
Section XI denied East Hampton its petition and, if it's going to play at all, it will have to do so in the bruising Division III.
In February, a Section XI committee recommended keeping the Bonackers in Division IV, though the school would not be eligible for the playoffs—an offer made by East Hampton officials themselves.
According to the Section XI handbook, in the “placement section,” there is a part titled “Alternative/Non Post-Season Qualifying League Placement.” It states that “a team is considered to have alternative/non post-season qualifying league status when it is deliberately placed in a league/division of lower enrollment or ability.” It later states: “(b) a team which has experienced a lack of success over a prolonged period, or (c) a team with other extenuating circumstances may petition for alternative/non post-season qualifying league placement status in that particular sport.”
Vasile-Cozzo felt confident that the petition would go through, since the team was willing to forgo its chance to make the playoffs. But the section’s athletic council, which is made up of athletic directors and other administrators from around the county, rejected the bid.
If East Hampton were to remain in Division IV, it would leave Division III with one fewer team, which almost certainly will affect the power-ranking system, which primarily determines the playoffs in each division. That would mean that a school like Amityville, which toes the line of Division III and IV enrollment, likely would get bumped back up to Division III.
Vasile-Cozzo said he feels strongly that his team would be in a dangerous and unfair situation playing in Division III. “I’m disappointed,” he said. “I felt we were really in a position, according to the rules and guidelines, of fitting into that alternative placement.
“I’m certainly encouraged that a discussion has started,” Vasile-Cozzo added. “If anything good has come of this, the section has put together a committee to look over how we do placement, not only with football but across all sports.”
East Hampton is on course to play next season in Division III, but Vasile-Cozzo said he will now regroup with football head coach Joe McKee and other coaches, along with parents and players, to see if they all want to play in the higher-caliber conference. The same situation came up between the 2013 and 2014 seasons—Vasile-Cozzo petitioned that time and likewise was denied—and East Hampton wound up folding its football program for the 2014 season.
While that’s certainly a possibility, it’s still too early to make that decision just yet, Vasile-Cozzo said.
“I’m not going to make this decision in a vacuum,” he said. “I’m going to report back to my School Board, get together with Joe [McKee] and we’ll see what the parents have to say about it.”
There is no option, Vasile-Cozzo said, of adding both Pierson and Bridgehampton back to the fold. Both schools have historically sent players to East Hampton, since they don’t have football teams, but Pierson started to send its players to Southampton last season, and Bridgehampton recently opted to follow suit and will send a few players there this fall.
East Hampton had distanced itself from those two schools, hoping that it would help its case to stay in Division IV—but Vasile-Cozzo was quick to point out that it wouldn’t have mattered much either way.
“We dropped Pierson a while ago, because we knew we could control our destiny if we were dealing with our own enrollment,” he explained. “That was a long-standing, historical relationship that we had with Pierson, and Bridgehampton as well. But if we were going to Conference IV, we were going to have to reduce our own numbers.
“We’re here for the kids,” he said. “We ultimately want to do right thing for our kids and for East End football in general.”
While the situation looks bleak from the outside, Vasile-Cozzo is encouraged that Section XI has started to loosen its stance on placement. He said many different ideas were shared at last week’s meeting, including geography-based leagues and divisions, and even the possibility of adopting 8-on-8 football, as opposed to the more common 11-on-11. According to a 2012 survey from the National Foundation of State High School Associations, 16 states in the country, mostly in the Midwest and West, use the 8-on-8 format. Some states use 9-on-9 or 6-on-6 formats.
“I don’t know what the repercussions of this will be, but I take things year to year in sports that we’re struggling in,” Vasile-Cozzo said. “We meant it when we said that we needed relief—we were serious about that. But there are other options out there, and we’ll investigate them.”