It is a ways off into the future.
Way, way off.
Both Saratoga Springs head coach Terry Jones and Shenendehowa head coach Brian Clawson wanted to make that clear Tuesday as each coach’s team wrapped up separate practices on the second day of the 2018 fall sports preseason.
But, yes, their teams meet in Week 8 — and that should make for an interesting rekindling of their annual rivalry given the circumstances and arrangement this year of Section II Class AA football.
“I’m sure it will impact the game a bit,” Jones said.
“But we’ll plan for that — and deal with that — then,” Clawson said.
Here’s the deal: This season, four former Class AA area teams — Ballston Spa, Columbia, La Salle and Troy — drop to Class A. To make up for those losses, Section II Class AA football will shift from two divisions to one, shorten its postseason field from eight teams to four and see its regular season extend one week.
That means Week 8 for Class AA — and again for Class D — will be the final week of the regular season. By the time that week comes around, it is possible the next week’s postseason field could be set . . . or matchups that week could serve as de facto play-in games, especially considering the week’s loaded Class AA lineup. Besides Saratoga Springs’ trip to Shenendehowa, that week’s power-packed slate also includes CBA at Guilderland and Colonie at Shaker.
Those are six teams that all will start their 2018 seasons expecting to make the postseason.
Two of them — at least — won’t.
“So there’s going to be big games every week,” Clawson said. “You can never take a week off. Every game counts now and every game is critical.”
“There’s 10 teams now and you have to be one of the top four after eight weeks,” said Jones, whose program lost last year’s Section II Class AA Super Bowl to eventual state champion Troy. “That makes every game a playoff game, essentially.”
Granted, high school football coaches generally feel that way, anyway. With so few games in a season, even the cross-classification and non-division games that most Section II teams play are important to a team’s development. But with a one-division setup like Class AA is using, winning each week takes on added importance.
Just look at the numbers. Last year, eight of 14 Class AA teams made the postseason. That’s 57.1 percent.
This season, only 40 percent of Class AA teams will advance to Section II’s postseason.
“Going into the season, the goal every year is to win every game, one game at a time,” said Clawson, whose program returns 29 players with varsity experience and had significant 7-on-7 success this summer. “The difference is with only one division, every game counts [in the standings]. There are no meaningless crossover games. But that’s the challenge of coaching. You need to have your team prepared every week.”
The extra wrinkle?
Well, what if Class AA opponents hit Week 8 already knowing their Week 9 fates . . . and what if they include each other? If, let’s say, Saratoga Springs and Shenendehowa are playing in the final week of the regular season and know they’re matching up again in the next week’s semifinals, could the teams hold something back in their annual rivalry matchup?
“That would be different just because it’s never happened that way before,” Clawson said.
So . . . perhaps it’s more than perhaps.
“I think if most [teams] get to Week 8 and know they’re in the playoffs the next week,” Jones said, “that [playoff game] becomes their No. 1 priority.”
But, again, that scenario is a ways off.
Way, way off.