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Football realignment leaves Townies in second tier ‘D-I’

“Power Four” will compete for “the” state championship

By Mike Rego
Posted 5/7/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — For the first time in the program’s storied, nine-decade-old history, East Providence High School will not get the opportunity to compete for “the” state …

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Football realignment leaves Townies in second tier ‘D-I’

“Power Four” will compete for “the” state championship

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — For the first time in the program’s storied, nine-decade-old history, East Providence High School will not get the opportunity to compete for “the” state championship if and when the 2020 season begins at some point this fall, pending the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the most recent realignment format approved by the Rhode Island Principals Committee on Athletics and implemented by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, the Townies will for at least the planned 2020 season play and vie for a title in the state’s now second tier, although it will continue to be called Division I.

According to district athletic director Gregg Amore, after receiving a bit of pushback to a couple of earlier proposals, and with the pandemic serving as a backdrop, the RIPCOA settled on the one year plan. The committee intends to revisit the issue next spring to determine future alignment, he added.

So, for 2020, the top grouping according to the new format is called the “Power Four” and is composed of Bishop Hendricken, LaSalle, North Kingstown and Portsmouth. The quartet will play each other and teams in D-I during the regular season, but will contest the state championship among themselves.

East Providence has been placed in one of two D-I subgroupings, I-A, along with fellow league holdovers Central, Cranston West and South Kingstown. Newcomer Woonsocket, the D-II champs the last two falls, also joins I-A. The I-B subgroup includes holdovers Cranston East, Cumberland and Shea as well as newcomers from the former D-II Burrillville and East Greenwich.

Barrington, St. Raphael and Moses Brown dropped down to the reconfigured, 12-team D-II under the plan. The rest of the state’s football playing schools are broken up into, likewise, realigned Divisions III and IV.

“I guess we had the option of going up into the ‘big four,’ but I got the job so late and with the situation as it is with the virus I wasn’t even able to meet the kids,” said new EPHS head coach Jon Stringfellow. He was named to the position in March following the resignation of former head coach Jay Monteiro.

“I haven’t seen any of them in-person, so it was like we’ll play where we are now and look at going up down the road,” Stringfellow added.

The change in format makes sense on its face and mirrors what the overseers long ago did with hockey when programs like Hendricken, Mount St. Charles and LaSalle became obviously dominant.

Hendricken (9) and LaSalle (2) have combined to win 11 of the last 12 state championship football titles. Just Barrington back in 2009 interrupted their string of results. And either the Hawks or Rams, respectively, have played in all dozen old D-I Super Bowls, squaring off against each other in seven of those games. Under the format for football the last two years, the teams that placed first in the regular season in each subgroup, also then known as I-A and I-B, met for the state title. Hendricken and LaSalle played in the 2018 team. The Hawks beat Portsmouth last fall.

That appearance was the second of two state championship appearances for Portsmouth during the Hendricken-LaSalle run. The other came in 2010, the Patriots again losing to Hawks. Aforementioned Barrington made back-to-back D-I Super Bowl trips in 2008 and 2009, losing to LaSalle and beating Hendricken in each. Cranston East is the only other team to make the state title Super Bowl game, falling to Hendricken in 2013. North Kingstown, which bounced between the top two divisions over the last decade, has enjoyed a resurgence of late, winning the last two D-I league championship games under the previous format.

“It’s kind of hard to believe we won’t have a shot at playing for the state championship,” Stringfellow said. “But on the other side of the coin people ask then why didn’t opt up? And like I said, I haven’t even met with the kids yet. I really don’t know what we’re going to have come the fall. From there, we’ll regroup and see where are next year.”

Teams in D-I this fall will play a seven-game regular season schedule as they have in recent years. This time around, they’ll play the four other teams in their subgroup, one team from their opposite subgroup and one from the “Power Four.” D-I teams also have the option of playing another intra-league opponent or a team from D-II that will count in their regular season total and standings.

East Providence has already filled its 2020 schedule. Its initial “Power Four” opponent is Hendricken. The Townies will play in Warwick against the Hawks. Their so-called “mandatory” crossover game is against Cranston East. Their option or “choice” game will be against Cumberland. E.P. will continue a standing non-league series against Mt. Hope and will as always play a non-league outing against LaSalle on Thanksgiving Day, this year slated for the Rams’ campus in Providence.

Of the meeting with Hendricken, where Stringfellow previously served as freshmen team head coach for over a decade, he said, “It will be interesting for sure. The junior and senior class are the last two groups I coached there. It will be interesting to compete against them. You want them to do well, but of course you want to beat them, too.”

Another change, similar to how basketball sets the field for its Open State Tournament, is the creation of a power points system used to determine playoff berths. Winners of games between D-I teams will receive 10 points and five for a loss. Points for games against the “Power Four” will count 16 for a win and eight for a loss. Crossover games between divisions see the winners getting six points and the losers three.

On the decision to set up a contest against fellow D-I side Cumberland in their “choice” game, Stringfellow added, “Why would you want to play down with the points situation? They’re a well-coached team, a pretty comparable team to us. I think it will be a good challenge for the kids, competing against another team at our level.”

In the postseason, six of the 10 teams, the top three in each subgroup, will qualify for the D-I playoffs and seeding will be determined based on the number of points they accrue during the regular season. The first place teams receive a bye into the semifinals. The second and third place teams will crossover in the quarters, I-A second place vs. I-B third place and vice versa.  The semifinal winners eventually advance to the league's Super Bowl title game.

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