As another athletic season draws to a close, concluding another academic year's in-conference varsity calendar, it's hard for some of us who pay attention to such things to get beyond pondering the tomfoolery that is how the championship team in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference is chosen.
Known by the acronym UCBAC, a name that dances off the tongue like phlegmatic or hic cough, the conference includes the athletic teams from the public schools in Harford and Cecil counties. They are divided not geographically, but rather based on strength of program. As a result, it is possible for a school with a particularly good softball program to have that team in the upper division while a struggling baseball program from the same school plays in the lower division.
The upper and lower division are masked by the names Chesapeake for upper and Susquehanna for lower. All of this is fine and makes perfect sense. It allows teams of comparable levels of competitiveness to play each other without having to take bus rides to the far corners of the state (and Maryland's odd shape gives it plenty of far corners). There are enough high schools in the two counties to allow for what amounts to essentially two leagues, an upper varsity and a lower varsity.
(This compares favorably, by the way, with the statewide system of athletic division of schools, which is based on enrollment and geographic assignment. Enrollment presumes schools with large student bodies have an edge over smaller schools when it comes to forming athletic teams, which makes sense. The geographic assignment component, however, leaves something to be desired as it has almost nothing to do with geographic location. Suffice to say, the state system for determining who plays whom for a state title in a particular sport bears little resemblance to the UCBAC system.)
As the end of an athletic season approaches, the teams with the best records in the Susquehanna (lower) and Chesapeake (upper) divisions become champions of their respective divisions. This makes perfect sense. The result is a champion of teams with high performing programs, and a champion of teams with, let's say rebuilding programs, since the upper and lower divisions have a mechanism for swapping out teams that are upwardly or downwardly mobile.
What happens next is what defies logic: the champion of the upper division plays the champion of the lower division for the title of Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference. With rare exceptions, the results of these contests are as predictable as the rising of the sun in the east. While a lower division team wins from time to time, almost always the upper division team dominates the contest in what amounts to a heavyweight champ vs. a punching bag. Or the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals. Then, adding misery to the embarrassment, the champion of the lower division moves up next year, even though it may have won the championship with a senior laden team, to challenge the tougher competition without the players who won the championship for them the previous season.
While there's much to like about the UCBAC, the way its champion team is decided and then what happens to its lower division champion leaves a lot to be desired. In a lot of ways, the students involved would be better off with a system that leaves well enough alone with a Susquehanna Division champion and a Chesapeake Division champion. And a more thoughtful approach to changing what division a team plays in.