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The End Zone Seat: NTL Plan Raises Questions

 

“Go west, young man.”

I’m not sure that Horace Greeley would heartily approve of the recent decision by the Northern Tier League to merge the remainder of its sports, effectively ending the East-West system most fans have known for years.

But I do know I’m going to take a very skeptical wait-and-see attitude to the change.

Beginning this fall, boys’ soccer, girls’ volleyball, boys’ and girls’ basketball, baseball and softball will compete for one league championship.

The only remaining semblance of the East and West divisions will be used for scheduling purposes.

League schedules in those sports will include home-and-away games with teams in their respective divisions and one crossover game with each of the teams in the other division.

Rumors of major changes were flying this spring with all kinds of scenarios being thrown out as school districts tried to come to grips with budget shortfalls courtesy of Gov. Tom Corbett.

Cuts had to be made and it is understandable that high school sports would have to accept its share of the pain.

Northern Tioga shut down Elkland High School. Several other districts cut entire programs and slashed athletic budgets.

Wyalusing saw its athletic budget cut $30,000 and will be operating on a bare-bones basis next year.

As I understand it, originally, much of the talk within the league was how to contain costs, especially travel expenses in an age of $3-plus gasoline, at the junior high or junior varsity levels. And they did make adjustments that should result in some savings.

Certainly that was something that needed to be looked at. It’s easy to just go along and do something the same way year after year because its always been done that way even when it simply doesn’t make much sense.

Somewhere along the line, varsity schedules came into play, and here’s where it gets a little fuzzy for me.

Because, to me, it looks less like a cost-cutting measure and more like an easy way for the West schools to fill out their schedules, which suddenly developed some gaping holes with the budget cuts, especially the decision to close Elkland.

If cutting transportation costs were one of the goals, someone needs to explain to me how making Galeton travel to Northeast Bradford or Wyalusing to Cowanesque Valley is saving anyone any money.

Because the NTL schedules will now practically fill up the entire regular-season allotment set by the PIAA, schools, especially on the fringes, will need to cut long-time relationships with schools much closer to them.

With only four non-league games left to fill in basketball, including two tournament games, who gets booted off Wyalusing’s schedule—Elk Lake, Sullivan County or Montrose? All of those schools are considerably closer and would draw more fans than trips to any of the West schools.

It also raises another issue.

I’ve always felt to be the best you have to play the best.

By limiting almost an entire schedule to the NTL, individual schools are no longer free to seek out games against tough outside competition that will either make them better or give them a benchmark to work toward improvement.

I believe that is what has held up the competitive level of the girls’ soccer league, which has been merged for a number of years. Because they have not faced teams from other conferences, the NTL teams have a hard time adjusting to Heartland Conference opponents when they get to District Four play.

Whether this decision was meant to be or not, it made it clear that the real power in the NTL is not in the more populous East but in the West.

The reason is quite simple.

When the league votes, each high school, not each school district, gets one vote. This means that two school districts—Northern Tioga, with Williamson and Cowanesque Valley, and Southern Tioga, with Mansfield, Liberty and North Penn—get five votes out of the 14 in the league.

To get what they want, all they need to do is convince three other schools to get a majority.

Wellsboro and Galeton, although I’m sure even they are wondering why they got stuck with trips to Wyalusing and the LeRaysville suburbs, will almost certainly side with them every time.

Canton and Troy, although they play in the East, actually are closer to many of the West schools geographically. Indeed, both schools tended to fill their non-league schedules in most sports with the NTL West. In fact, to balance the baseball and softball schedules they will alternate years in the West.

The five remaining schools—Wyalusing, Northeast Bradford, Towanda, Athens and Sayre—are fairly powerless to affect much change against the West’s power bloc.

It may well be that these changes are the only way to save the NTL.

Is the NTL even worth saving?

Only time will tell if this new system will work and actually add up to meaningful savings for Wyalusing or become a financial burden.

 

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