BY MICHAEL KELLY
The Suburban Council announced Friday its divisional alignment for the 2015-16 school year, the league’s first as a 16-team conglomerate.
In the league’s Blue Division will be Bethlehem, Colonie, Columbia, Guilderland, Niskayuna, Saratoga Springs, Shaker, and Shenendehowa; in the Grey Division will be Albany, Averill Park, Ballston Spa, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Christian Brothers Academy, Mohonasen, Schenectady, and Troy.
In December, it was announced four members of the now-defunct Big 10 Conference — Albany, CBA, Schenectady, and Troy — will compete in the Suburban Council starting this fall. With the league needing to expand from its current format of two geography-based divisions of six teams, Shenendehowa athletic director Chris Culnan said the league looked at having anything from no divisions to three divisions before settling on its new format.
“We put a lot of time and thought into this, and I think this will be a very good product for our league,” said Culnan, who said the new setup tried to take into account school size, overall program strength, geography, and natural rivals.
In some respects, though, the league’s divisions only will matter so much. For example, in sports such as boys and girls basketball, the league’s teams will all play one another once and each school will only play a pair of divisional rivals twice; meanwhile, for sports with shorter schedules, the league’s schools will only play each other once in Suburban Council play.
Soccer falls into that latter category. With a 16-game schedule, the league’s teams will all play each other once, and leave the boys teams with one non-league game and the girls squads with two.
With that in mind, Niskayuna girls soccer head coach Bryce Colby said the new setup only mattered to a certain extent — but that was true in the past, too.
“They could divide it any way they want, as long as the schedule is we play everyone once,” said Colby. “I don’t know if [us coaches] could even tell you who won a certain division in any given year.”
However, the change does mean Suburban Council soccer teams gain back the opportunity to play non-league contests after several years without them, something Colby said excites the league’s coaches.
“That lack of non-leagues experiences has hurt us,” Colby said.
Shenendehowa girls basketball head coach Joe Murphy said he is approaching the changing landscape from a similar viewpoint, saying the chance to play incoming schools such as Albany and Troy in league contests will be a benefit for the Suburban Council’s current dozen members.
“Anytime you can play new teams, it’s definitely interesting,” said Murphy. “For us to get to play some of those schools, it will be a good change of pace.”
Along with the new divisions, the Suburban Council also announced the formation of a Competition Committee, which Niskayuna athletic director Larry Gillooley will head. In a statement from the league, the committee’s job will be to “review annually our league divisions to determine if changes are needed in our league structure.”
While changes to the league’s divisional structure are not likely to occur each year, Culnan said the Suburban Council could see shifts every couple years. The alignment announced Friday, he said, is just the starting point.
“What we’re settling on is what’s best for all the teams in the league — right now,” he said.
The league still needs to figure out a system to award regular season championships and how its new look will affect postseason seedings.
“We still have work ahead of us,” Culnan said.