COLUMN: Get the snake out of CAL sports

By TOM WILLIAMS

This snake, like most snakes, cannot be trusted.

The Cape-Atlantic League has used this reptile to align its conferences the last few years. The idea is to make them more balanced with fair competition.

The CAL is about to release its seedings for its basketball tournament, one of the best things it has ever produced. The tournament started 10 years ago – in 2012. For 20 years before that there was a one-game playoff between the champions of the two conferences. Mike McGarry, in between his legendary Howell club sandwiches, has done his usual good job of previewing those tournament seedings.

So, with the regular season about to end and the CAL Tournament to begin on Friday, this seems like a good time to discuss the way teams are aligned within the league.

First, lets make one thing absolutely clear. The athletics directors of the CAL are constantly working to improve things for the student-athletes. They want to make things fair and equal – or, at least, as fair and equal as they can be. That is why they believed the snake when the serpent told them that his system would make things better.

This is how it works.

You seed all the teams, generally based on their performance the last few years. The No. 1 seed is placed in the American Conference, No. 2 in the National, No. 3 and No. 4 in the United, No. 5 in the National, No. 6 and No. 7 in the American, an so on. When you draw it, it kind of looks like a snake.

This process might work well when creating pools for an end-of-the-season tournament, when the overall seeding is based on results from that season. But it doesn’t work well when the seedings are based on previous years. Graduations, transfers and other things can drastically change the field. And it is harder for teams to build up rivalries.

Why not come up with permanent alignment that takes into consideration rivalries, geography and other consistent factors.

Here is one possible alignment.

The American Conference includes the three Egg Harbor Regional schools, plus rivals Atlantic City and Holy Spirit along with Egg Harbor Township and Pleasantville. The National has the Cumberland County teams together with St. Augustine, St. Joe, Hammonton and Atlantic Tech. And the United has the Cape May County schools paired with Mainland and Buena.

Each coach well before the season begins would be required to submit his/her ranking of the other teams in the conference and those rankings, together with those of selected media, would create a seeding of one through seven. The No. 1 seeds in the three conferences would play crossover games. So would the No. 2 seeds, and so on.

In fully contested sports – like basketball – this would give a team 14 games and room to add more at its discretion.

Maybe this particular alignment isn’t perfect. Maybe it needs to be tweaked a bit. All schools don’t compete in all sports so there will have to be some changes anyway.

But a standard alignment, with only the crossovers changing every year, is the best scenario for a consistent Cape-Atlantic League. (It would, by the way, also be a better format for the West Jersey Football League!!)

And they can watch that snake slither away.

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