NTL Makes Sweeping Changes
With school budgets squeezed by Pennsylvania’s massive education funding cuts, the Northern Tier League athletic directors and principals gathered on July 13 to implement several major changes to the league’s schedules.
What emerged are changes to the girls’ volleyball, boys’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ basketball, baseball and softball schedules.
In essence, according to Wyalusing athletic director Brent Trowbridge, the NTL’s two divisions—East and West—have been eliminated from those sports.
When it became clear that Pennsylvania’s budget would not be anywhere near the same level as previous years, tough decisions had to made, including the closing of Elkland High School by Northern Tioga School District.
Other school districts slashed budgets and dropped programs in an effort to make up the difference in funding.
“The schedules were all done and set,” Trowbridge explained. “As the (spring) season went on, everybody felt a need to re-organize.”
With some subtle changes in each sport, based on the number of schools that offer each sport and the PIAA-mandated number of regular-season games, the re-organization is rather simple.
Each of the schools in the old division will play each other twice in the merged sports. They will also play each of the schools in the other division once in crossover games.
Besides Wyalusing, the East schools are Athens, Canton, Northeast Bradford, Towanda and Troy. In the West, the schools are Cowanesque Valley, Galeton, Liberty, Mansfield, North Penn, Wellsboro and Williamson.
There is no real way to know how much money each of the districts will save—in some cases, it will likely increase travel costs for some schools such as Wyalusing, Northeast Bradford, Galeton and Cowanesque that are on the outer fringes of the league.
The real cost savings will probably come in consolidating schedules at the junior high level in certain sports.
It will, however, make it easier for some schools, especially in the West, to fill their regular season slates.
However, because of the PIAA limit on regular-season games, it will severely cut the member schools’ non-league slates, meaning that athletic directors will have to choose which of some long-time non-league opponents will be dropped. The late date at which the vote was taken will also mean some of the non-league opponents will be put in a bind to fill out the holes in their schedules.
The mergers will not affect girls’ soccer, which had already been merged several years ago, cross country, wrestling and track and field.
According to Trowbridge, some of the schedules still have not been totally finalized.
Also, because there will only be one champion declared for each of the merged sports, the league’s constitution will need to be amended to reflect that change.
Besides the league changes, Trowbridge reports that $30,000 was slashed from Wyalusing’s athletic budget, meaning the school will be providing the bare essentials for its programs.
He is hopeful that the proposed changes in the junior high programs will reduce some transportation costs.
However, the onus of providing any extras to the various sports programs will fall upon the individual booster clubs.
What follows is a brief update for each sport, especially as they apply to Wyalusing.
Girls’ Volleyball: Wyalusing will play all the East teams twice and the West teams once.
According to Trowbridge, the players from Elkland’s now defunct program will play for Williamson.
The Lady Rams will still be able to play in the Williamson and Central Mountain tournaments this season.
Real cost savings in the volleyball programs will come at the junior high level. Rather than traveling to each school individually, the league will organize six Saturday tournaments, guaranteeing each school 12 games.
Girls’ Soccer: This program, as mentioned before, was merged several years ago, meaning that the entire schedule was filled with NTL games.
However, Liberty dropped the sport this year, which will free up two non-league dates for each NTL squad.
Football: Varsity football wasn’t affected by any of the moves.
According to Trowbridge, this will be the final year Wyalusing will play in the Small School division. Starting next season, the Rams will move up to the Large School division and Cowanesque Valley will move down to the Small School. This could free Trowbridge to seek out some closer non-league opponents to fill out the schedule.
The junior high schedule will be six games with each school having the option of adding another non-league game.
Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball: Both teams will play an 18-game schedule, facing all the division schools twice and all but one of the teams in the other division once.
If they played all the other division teams, that would give each school 19 games, leaving them just three non-league games open.
The PIAA allows a school 20 regular-season games and 22 if the school is in a tournament. By dropping one crossover game, the NTL opened the door for a school to play in two tournaments or one tournament and two non-league games.
Trowbridge did say he hopes to save significant travel money by having the boys’ and girls’ junior high programs travel together and play the same nights. Since this is an East division schedule only, it will cut road trips in half.
This will also open up the gym a few more nights for late-season varsity and elementary practices and indoor baseball and softball practices.
Wrestling: The league is still wrestling, no pun intended, with the schedules for this season.
Originally, the plan was to put together a large number of tri- and quad-meets to cut travel costs. However, there was opposition, including Wyalusing, to the plan because it really limited the number of home dates some of the schools would have.
It also didn’t realistically take into account the junior high programs, which can make for some pretty long nights if they are combined with the varsity matches.
Baseball and Softball: Each team will play a 16-game league schedule.
Before the loss of Elkland, the West only had six teams to begin with since Southern Tioga district only fielded squads out of Mansfield. Beginning in 2012, Mansfield will field baseball only, while the softball team will play out of Liberty.
To balance the league with six teams in each division, Canton and Troy will alternate years between the West and East.