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NHIAA Football Realignment Drawing Mixed Reviews

  • Assistant Coach Dennis Borcuk explains a play to his team during football practice at Newport High School in Newport, N.H., on August 16, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Assistant Coach Dennis Borcuk explains a play to his team during football practice at Newport High School in Newport, N.H., on August 16, 2013.

    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Newport's Zack Smith pours water over his face during a water break at football practice at Newport High School in Newport, N.H., on August 16, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Newport's Zack Smith pours water over his face during a water break at football practice at Newport High School in Newport, N.H., on August 16, 2013.

    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Assistant Coach Dennis Borcuk explains a play to his team during football practice at Newport High School in Newport, N.H., on August 16, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Newport's Zack Smith pours water over his face during a water break at football practice at Newport High School in Newport, N.H., on August 16, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Newport — The New Hampshire high school football landscape has changed drastically in recent years as more and more schools keep adding the fall sport to the list of extracurricular activities. And devising a scheme that separates all these teams into equitable conferences and divisions has become a burdensome task in a state where 57 schools will field football teams this season.

Since 2008, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association used a six -division format, but starting this season there will be three divisions with four conferences in each division. And while most coaches are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the new alignment, Newport’s Larry Carle has already made up his mind.

“I find it quite annoying,” said the longtime leader of the Tigers. “I like the six-division setup. It was getting an identity of is own.”

One of the big changes will be a postseason that will last through the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Eight teams will make the playoffs in each division, with two from each conference. The two top teams in each conference will meet in the quarterfinals, which will be followed by semifinal games based on a point-rating system, with all the games at the home of the higher seed.

Stevens coach Paul Silva is among those who are just not sure what lies ahead. “We’ll just deal with it,” he said. “It is what it is.”

The Cardinals have been placed in a geographically compact Division III conference with Newport, Mascoma and Fall Mountain. Kearsarge is in the D-II West with Monadnock, ConVal, Hollis-Brookline and Sanborn. Lebanon and Hanover line up in the D-II North with Kennett, Plymouth and Laconia, all familiar foes from their recent Division IV seasons.

One of the schools that is looking at a challenging season is Kearsarge, which will now play a Division II schedule that includes the likes of Trinity, St. Thomas, Merrimack Valley and Hanover.

While Kearsarge coach Zach Matthews said he is excited about what lies ahead, there is some concern about the size of the competition. “The concept of three divisions is a good one,” said Matthews. “It adds more value to a championship. My only concern is that some schools like us will be playing against schools almost twice our size. In situations like that, the overall depth of your program will be tested.”

Carle’s outlook on the new alignment is that small schools like Newport should be in a conference with schools his size. With 17 teams in Division III, the schedules each season will change.

Newport’s conference schedule with Mascoma, Newport, Fall Mountain and Stevens is not the problem, but schools like Somersworth, Bow and Pelham are also in the division and could be a Newport opponent in the postseason or on the regular-season schedule in the years ahead.

“We never catch a break in the schedule,” said Carle. “Division VI was a tremendous league. It just seems that when changes are made, whatever bad can happen filters down to us. What are our chances of winning a championship with Somersworth in our conference?

“There is a sophistication to their program. They have a tradition of rough, tough kids. What are they (the NHIAA) doing? When we had the six divisions, we were developing a personality, and there were a bunch of 5-4 teams. Now the whole balance has gone out of whack.”

Carle also said that one time he, along with former Franklin coach Greg Husband, tried to form a small-school conference, but the NHIAA would not have anything to do with it.

“Word came back to us that there would be no discussion on the matter,” said Carle.

Not so anymore.