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'Glorious league' dissolves

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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Schenectady High School athletic director Steve Boynton displays the Big 10 basketball championship trophy from 2005 in the Pat Riley Sports Center Tuesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Schenectady High School athletic director Steve Boynton displays the Big 10 basketball championship trophy from 2005 in the Pat Riley Sports Center Tuesday.

The Big 10 Athletic Conference will no longer be a part of the Section II landscape beginning July 1 following a vote by its athletic council.

A major shift in the balance of power and a low number of girls’ programs were among the reasons Big 10 members said the league that once flourished is dissolving.

The league’s athletic council received input from superintendents and athletic directors from member schools before making its decision, according to Schenectady athletic director Steve Boynton.

“I think it was the right thing to do; not the easiest thing to do,” said Christian Brothers Academy varsity basketball coach Dave Doemel. “You’re placed in a position where you have to react.”

The Big 10 came about in 1977 when the Diocesan League and Class A League combined. The 10 schools that joined forces were Albany, Amsterdam, Bishop Maginn, Catholic Central, CBA, LaSalle Institute, Linton, Mont Pleasant, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons and Troy.

Linton and Mont Pleasant merged over two decades ago to form Schenectady.

“It was a glorious league,” said Doemel. “When we got together it was a breath of fresh air. We had a great working relationship. There were great coaches, fantastic competition. It’s sad because you’re never going to get that back.”

“It’s been a great league, with great teams, great rivalries,” said Bishop Maginn athletic director Joe Grasso. “It’s just that schools have moved in different directions, as far as size. There’s a competitive imbalance in some sports.”

The news of the league officially folding was released to the media Monday evening in an email sent out by Big 10 president and CBA head of school James Schlegel. With the announcement, Schenectady will not get a chance at the elusive Big 10 boys’ basketball title it’s been chasing since winning six of them from 1998-2005. CBA will not get a chance at a 12th straight league championship in boys’ lacrosse.

Schlegel’s statement read: “Throughout the 2013-14 school year, the members of the Big Ten Athletic Conference discussed the challenges facing the league. While analyzing many different factors, disparity among Big Ten schools in terms of enrollment and sports offerings has continued to grow. As a result of these discussions, member schools mutually agreed to withdraw from the Big Ten Athletic Conference effective July 1, 2014.”

Big 10 teams will play independent schedules during the 2014-15 school year.

“People want to hold on. There’s nothing to hold on to,” said Boynton. “It’s unfortunate, but we’ll be better off in the long run.”

Amsterdam left the Big 10 in March for the Foothills Council. Last month, Troy withdrew from the league, and afterward, Schenectady filed papers to do so, according to a Section II official.

“Amsterdam leaving was a major blow, but I understand why they did it,” said Boynton. “We’ve struggled with female sports.”

“When Amsterdam made the move and went to the Foothills Council, it heightened awareness of schools that have females,” said Doemel.

The Big 10 has always had fewer girls’ teams than boys teams because of CBA’s and LaSalle’s inclusion in the league. In recent years, several schools did not field varsity and lower-level girls’ teams for various reasons, which reduced the number of league games for everyone else.

Bishop Maginn did not field a varsity softball team this spring. Last fall, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons did not field a varsity soccer team.

“It’s no one’s fault. You have what you have, but the girls’ situation is probably the major reason,” Troy athletic director Paul Reinisch said of the school stepping away from the Big 10. “When a school doesn’t have a varsity or JV or both, it creates big gaps, and they’re difficult to fill.”

“You’ve got the girls’ side. Lack of enrollment, economics,” said Doemel. “Amsterdam pulls out. Troy goes to a spring meeting and pulls out. We’ll see who wants to do what and go from there.”

The Big 10 had seen the gap in competitiveness widen in recent years in just about every sport.

“In basketball, we saw a drop off of two schools that used to be powerful,” Doemel said of Bishop Maginn and Bishop Gibbons. “Where we’re really hurting in the league is baseball. I’m over here and it’s a 16-0 game, and we’re not really hitting the ball that hard.

“You say, ‘Wait a minute, where’s the competitiveness here?’ ”

Doemel said some Big 10 schools will still compete against each other next year in non-league contests, and find tournaments and non-league games to fill out their schedules.

“We’ll play anyone who’s left who wants to play,” said Doemel. “We’ll have our tournament and we’ve got some feelers out. We’re looking at Saugerties, a few New York City teams, maybe Albany Academy. You schedule it the best way you can. It’s not the ideal situation.”

“I fully expect we’ll get a full compliment of games,” said Reinisch. “And we’re not just looking for games. We’ll look for competitive games, what’s best for our students.

“One area where we’ve been getting beat up is lacrosse. We can work our schedule to find a little better fit.”

Fitting into a league some day is something Big 10 school officials are already pondering.

“There are a lot of scenarios, a lot of options, and most are better than the current situation,” said Boynton.

Section-wide classification play has for years been a topic of conversation. Section II football operates under that format, where schools of like size are grouped together for competition.

“A lot depends on where discussion goes in the section,” said Doemel. “Could we see classification across the board? A lot of schools are opposed to that. They don’t want to break up their current leagues, and you have to understand that somewhat.”

 
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