Behind the Mic: EPC – Life Isn’t Fair

This past Saturday, The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference ended its first regular season of basketball.  And to the delight of the fans, the final weekend was loaded with games that had significant meaning for more than half the teams involved.  Four teams were fighting for two playoff spots and others were battling for home court advantage by trying to upgrade their seeding in the first EPC tournament which will determine the overall champion.  That tournament will be played this week.  After Saturday’s win by Allen, the tournament pairings are set: Parkland-Whitehall; Liberty-Easton; Stroudsburg-Central Catholic; and Allen-Emmaus.  Parkland is the overwhelming favorite to win the title on Friday night, but there are no guarantees.  Every sports fan knows the cliché, “That’s why they play the games”.

However, one has to ask if these final pairings were “fair”.  Is the new league set up in the best possible way?  After this first year, is there room for improvement?  And the answers are an emphatic “YES!”

There are 18 teams in the EPC, broken down into three divisions of six teams.  Each team plays their division opponents twice and three selected teams from the other two divisions – 16 conference games in all.  This system creates a schedule where each team does not play six teams in the conference.  This allows some teams to play a much more difficult schedule than others if that team happens to get six of the stronger teams and another gets some of the weaker teams.  This was especially true for the Lehigh Valley teams that had the much weaker bottom-echelon Mountain Division teams on their schedule while others did not.

In addition, the Skyline Division was so much stronger top-to-bottom than the other two divisions that having to play those teams twice was certainly detrimental to some.  It also means that some historically great rivalry games were lost – Allen did not play Central Catholic, their cross-town rival; Nazareth and Easton did not meet; Liberty and Parkland did not play.  I think you get my point.

Granted this league is in its infancy and certainly some growing pains were expected.  But there is a quick and fair fix.  Just eliminate the divisions (they really did not serve much of a purpose anyway) and have each of the 18 teams play each other once.  Everybody plays everybody!  That creates 17 conference games, allows five independent match-ups, and creates a regular season champion.  The only drawback I see is that a team has a home-court advantage for that one game, but that will be reversed the following year.  Choose your top eight based on the standings that were created where everyone is being judged equally because each team played the same schedule.

We have all been told by parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses that “Life isn’t fair”, but if there is a way to make it fair, then do so!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. I worked the Lafayette-Bucknell game this past Wednesday night with John Feinstein, noted author of many top-selling non-fiction sports books (A Season on the Brink, The Last Amateurs, etc.) and young-adult fictional works. He also writes for the Washington Post and is a guest commentator on the Golf Channel.  He told me his next book will be about three of college basketball’s most iconic coaches – Jim Valvano, Dean Smith, and Mike Kryzewski.  John was good friends with all of them.  Dean Smith died this past Sunday at the age of 83 from complications caused by dementia.
  2. Tiger Woods withdrew from the Farmers Insurance tournament this past week because of a bad back. Despite coming off his worst year on the tour in 2014, he still earned $55 million from golf and endorsements, so in case you think his future income is threatened, ponder this.  Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus made $40 million and $22 million respectively last year.  I don’t think “washed up” works here.
  3. The New England Patriots players received $97,000 for their win in the Super Bowl, the Seahawk players got $49,000. That may seem like a nice paycheck for one game, but considering that the players on the winning team in the Pro Bowl got $55,000 each and Tom Brady got $1 million a game this year, not so much!
  4. Let the playoffs begin! Crowning EPC and Colonial League champions in boys and girls basketball and District champions in basketball and wrestling are all on tap in the coming weeks. Please join us for the best in high school basketball.
  5. I actually had a rare Saturday off this past week because Lafayette’s game with Loyola was picked up by CBS Sports Network and broadcast on Monday, so my wife and I, daughter and son-in-law went into New York to see a show and watch my granddaughter perform at The Pit, an ”improv” theater. The show was “Beautiful- The Carole King Musical” and my granddaughter is Abigail Ludrof.  Both were great!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Four Teams to Watch: EPC

The high school football season is nearly upon us! Before it kicks into high gear (our first two RCN broadcasts will be this Friday and Saturday nights), I wanted to take a look at four East Penn Conference teams that have some interesting storylines for the upcoming season. Please note, these are NOT the teams that I think will necessarily be the top four teams in the league but rather schools that may not be on your radar and/or squads that have some unique issues. We’ll also take a look at key Colonial League teams to keep an eye on in the very near future.

EASTON
Local football fans may not have noticed (and critics probably don’t want to), but Easton football has changed over the last several seasons, with Head Coach Steve Shiffert opening up the playbook and including more passing plays than previous years. They look to continue that more open style in 2014, but will have some incredibly tough graduated pieces to fill, especially on the offensive line—a strength from a season ago. They will, however, feature arguably the best offensive weapon in the area in Shane Simpson and have a number of strong defenders returning. They are one of the few schools in the area that have two quality quarterback candidates (E.J. Roeder and Trey Durrah). The Rovers will again incorporate a number of two-way players, something that may work against them playing a team like Parkland. Seeing the “new guys” adjusting to their role and keeping an eye on the Rovers’ depth will be two more things to watch as the season unfolds, and could tell how much success the team will have in the playoffs.

WHITEHALL
I have not seen them during the double sessions this month (I try to get to as many different schools as I can at this time of year, but since I’ve seen them the last two “Augusts” and in trying to be fair to other schools…).

I did, however, see a couple of their football players at this summer’s basketball league games, and also several of their linemen…and they are MUCH bigger than they were a year ago. Mind you, their offensive and defensive lines were fantastic last season. In fact, quite a number of coaches and football experts all marveled at how fundamentally-sound the Zephyrs’ linemen were. If the Zephyrs bring that same mentality with the added size, they have the offensive capabilities led once again by running back Sa’quon (don’t call me “Say Say”) Barkley and this year at quarterback by Gianni Sinatore—a very talented multi-sport athlete. That combined with several solid defenders returning will allow Whitehall to challenge Parkland and Easton through a district playoff run.

EMMAUS
The Hornets are a team I may have “snake-bit” a year ago, in anointing them as my “surprise” team of 2013. Emmaus got off to a slow start, which precluded them from making a run at the top teams in the district. However, I was extremely impressed with Randy Cuthbert, who was hired very late in the offseason a year ago, and his team when I saw them later in the season, and they have a number of quality players returning (among them QB Logan Kober, RB Wyl Miller, LB Kyle Boney and DL Eric Miller). They’ll need to make some adjustments defensively (former defensive coordinator Sam Senneca joined his son coaching at Wilson), but I think they have a favorable early season schedule—save the week two matchup against Easton—which should keep them near the top of the standings. Their other tougher matchups (Parkland, Whitehall) close out their regular season schedule, but if the team can continue to improve the way it did in 2013, those two games against the Trojans and the Zephyrs should be great battles to watch and very meaningful games in terms of the postseason positioning.

DIERUFF
There is no question in my mind that Bethlehem Catholic is the best of the “Mountain” football teams in the new EPC. In fact, a silver lining for the Golden Hawks getting “bumped” to the other division is that they will have no problem whatsoever in making the district playoffs, and should easily qualify for the number-one seed and home-field advantage in districts—something they did not have a year ago. But one of the key teams to watch among the “northern” teams are the Huskies, who are coming off a resurgent 2013 campaign. After some outsiders thought the program should be disbanded, Head Coach Kyle Beller and his squad have done a remarkable job of rebuilding the program. Not only did they win five games one year ago, but had legitimate chances to win at least two more games and qualify for the post-season—a thought no one outside of East Allentown would have thought possible last August. Because of the new league, they will face some much tougher competition (Parkland this Friday, Becahi on 9/26, Freedom on 10/3), and even if they equal the win total this year, one could argue the team is still moving in the right direction. But with two of the most talented (and definitely two of the most underrated) skill-position players in the league in Shakur Lester and Chris Marks, it is entirely possible the Huskies once again exceed fans’ expectations this fall. (FYI: for Husky fans, Dieruff Athletic Director Melvin Riddick will be one of our guests on our Sept. 11th “SportsTalk” show).

For the record, I do believe that Parkland is the best EPC team on paper, and have heavy odds on winning another District XI title this year. Last August, a very knowledgeable football guru told me that if QB DeVante Cross would develop his passing abilities, that the Trojans offense would be deadly. Cross has not only has improved ALL facets of his game, but the team added a quality football mind in Jim Terwilliger as a quarterbacks coach, to its already super-qualified staff. Even their kicking game is far above average, probably closer to the “superior” category, with perhaps the best leg in the area in Jake Bissell. I’m hard pressed to find anyone who can point out glaring weaknesses on this team, and see only two or three Lehigh Valley squads on their regular season schedule that will be able to challenge Parkland this fall. How far can they go this season? Keep watching “RCN SportsTalk” and our local football coverage to find out!

How do you feel about the new East Penn Conference? Which EPC teams do you feel will be the most interesting teams to watch this season, or give us your first impressions ahead of our “Colonial League” blog entry. Send us an email at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com, and join us for our “High School Football Preview Show” broadcasting this Thursday from 6-7pm from the Great Allentown Fair.