In an effort to find parity and reboot a postseason system long limited to four teams, the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association has realigned its football conference and now will host two city championships, DCPS officials announced Tuesday.
The move comes on the heels of Spingarn High School’s impending closure in Northeast and the disparity in scheduling between the traditional East and West divisions. Two new subdivisions, which officials have named the Stars and Stripes, will feature six teams apiece beginning in the fall of 2013.
The Stars division will feature Anacostia, Ballou, Coolidge, Dunbar, H.D. Woodson and Wilson. Those schools will be eligible for the annual Turkey Bowl each November, while teams in the Stripes division — which includes Bell, Cardozo, Eastern, Phelps, McKinley Tech and Theodore Roosevelt — will not compete for a place in the Thanksgiving Day game. Instead, the Stripes division will employ an independent playoff format that will culminate in an inaugural football championship to be played in November. Winners of the Stripes division can petition to join the Stars division.
“The past regime was kind of stuck in the dark ages,” Dunbar Athletic Director Johnnie Walker said. “This East-West thing should’ve been done with a long time ago. . . . Scheduling has always been our challenge.”
Walker cited playoff systems in Maryland and Virginia as models of parity – places where “4A plays 4A and 2A plays 2A,” he said. Adopting a similar system is not only long overdue, he added, but it’s destined to improve morale at programs struggling to field teams and will ultimately help administrators schedule prior to the season starting. Two teams, Bell and Roosevelt, forfeited against Dunbar last season because of a lack of players. Cardozo and Eastern did not field teams in 2012.
“I think there are a lot of issues well beyond the structure of the league that influence the structure of the league. Now we have a different one, we’ll see how that works,” fourth-year Coolidge Coach Natalie Randolph said. “[DCPS] is trying to make things better.”
No other sports will feature the two subdivisions, and each team will play each other at least once during the season. In football, teams from the Stars and Stripes still have the opportunity to cross over, but those games will be slotted as part of the nonconference schedule. DCIAA football teams have four nonconference games to schedule each fall. The top four teams from each division will advance to their respective conference playoffs.
“Having two subdivisions gives programs added value with schools that have never had the opportunity to compete for a championship in the old four-team bracket,” DCPS Athletic Director Stephanie Evans said in a statement. “Football is the anchor sport and the greatest athletic revenue generator for schools. Our hope is that creating a power division in football will create new rivalries, quality games within both divisions, and increase fan and alumni support.”
A collection of athletic directors and coaches weighed in on the process, but challenges remain for programs in the Stripes division, said first-year Phelps Coach Antonio Price. After spending three seasons at McKinley Tech, Price migrated to Phelps this year to revive a school that hasn’t fielded a football team since 1998.
Price met Tuesday’s news with measured optimism, calling the chance for winners of the Stripes division to join the Stars division “a good opportunity.” But the new alignment creates a “Division 1” and a “Division 2,” in the city, he said, which will make it difficult for the lower-tier teams to attract student athletes to their rosters.
“It has its gains,” said Price, who added that he has about 15-20 players lined up on his roster so far this spring. He’s hoping a new, re-energized league format – one in which his players can compete for a new city title – will attract even more.
“That’s going to come in time. I really believe we can compete in the Division 1,” Price said. “We just gotta prove ourselves, that’s all.”