In response to comments made during an athletic directors' discussion of the Virginia High School League's realignment, James Monroe principal John Gordon defended the plan as "so much better" than what used to be in place.
Gordon, who also chairs the VHSL's executive committee, took issue with some of the statements made in an article that appeared in the Daily Press on Aug. 18. The Daily Press assembled five ADs from its coverage area — Heritage's Dwayne Peters, Woodside's Todd Price, Kecoughtan's Lee Martin, Lafayette's Dan Barner and Poquoson's Ken Bennett — and discussed realignment issues and challenges.
All five ADs, chosen at random, spoke strongly against the new plan. A common concern was that they were not given enough time to prepare. The plan was voted on by membership last October.
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Gordon, who called the Daily Press to request a chance to "dispel the negative connotations" made by the ADs, said realignment was really set forth in December of 2011. That, he said, is when committees began forming to discuss it.
"This was not an executive committee decision," Gordon said. "We definitely want to make it clear that it wasn't forced down any school's throats and that people weren't aware of it. This whole process took 20 months to occur.
"We had over 100 meetings with approximately 150 people attending when you look at the (Redistricting and Reclassification) committee, the ad hoc committee, those people dealing with postseason play and formats. They knew everything that was coming down."
Gordon also took issue with the notion that district tournaments will no longer exist. There is no VHSL mandate on that, but teams are now arranged in conferences. They are required to play a conference tournament at the end of the regular season (except in football).
Because of that, most districts are not playing what they consider an additional and meaningless tournament.
"Each district can make that decision," Gordon said. "One of the suggestions I've given to the principals and athletic directors is … why not have a district tournament during the holidays? I'm sure you could preserve a lot of those rivalries. Or even as a kickoff tournament to start the year.
"That could apply to several sports — baseball, field hockey, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, you name it. It would be a pretty good solution."
The athletic directors also expressed concerns with increased travel, including more trips to the Southside during the regular season. Gloucester, for example, is in the same conference as Great Bridge, Hickory and Indian River in all sports, from football to field hockey.
Gordon pointed out that schools are not required to play regular-season games against conference opponents. The counter-argument is that not playing a conference schedule would make seeding the tournament problematic.
The conference and group arrangement, Gordon said, makes competition more fair in terms of enrollments.
"The whole summary is having equal-sized schools play equal-sized schools for championships," he said. "I'll give you an example: In (the former Division 4), the state champion (Briar Woods) in football has an enrollment that was 400 to 500 students greater than their opponent. We all know that in a sport like that, depth is going to be the big thing that separates you from your opponent.
"We know some of the smaller schools were definitely for this because you saw larger disparities of talent in the championship games. The postseason tournament format is (about) having more teams qualify, giving more schools an opportunity to become champions. To me, that's what it's all about."
Gordon acknowledged that travel might become an issue in the postseason.
"We're going to have to take a hard look at it, (and) there will have to be some patience," he said. "Any time you have a change of this magnitude, there is going to be some things you have to look at and potentially adjust. "
He also recognizes the potential for a watered-down postseason. In the Group 4A South, for example, there are only 24 teams. All but eight will make the postseason. Had this system been in place a year ago, a probable first-round matchup would have been Lake Taylor (10-0 in the regular season) vs. Denbigh (2-8).
Across the state, 192 of the 315 VHSL schools will make the postseason. That's 61 percent.
"That is a concern, and we discussed that at length," he said. "In the postseason, you should have your best teams in there. There's no other way around that. You will potentially see some disparities as if you were in the regular season.
"But if you look at the historical data from the playoffs, (some) first-round games were blowouts, too. The only thing that will be different is you could potentially have a school that makes the postseason with a losing record."
Still, Gordon says the good outweighs the bad.
"I believe what we have in place now is so much better than what we did," he said. "We all know there are only two sports that generate any funds — football and boys' basketball. We kept the football (ratings system) the same.
"And in boys basketball, you'll have the flexibility to do some things you had done previously. The only difference is you might have to have a different road to become state champion."