Super conferences may be the thing of the future in college football, but the concept is getting a test drive at the high school level in Vermont this fall.
Four teams – Champlain Valley Union, Colchester, Middlebury and Mount Mansfield – moved from Division II to Division I in the offseason, which created a 14-team league at the top of Vermont's three-division format.
“In the past we always tried to have an even number of teams in each division,” CVU coach Jim Provost said. “What was happening is there were schools in Division II that started to do well and belonged in Division I.
“In the last two years, from top to bottom, there was more parity in Division II than there was in Division I. I think there's better balance across the division now.”
The following alignments will be in place through the 2012 season:
Essex; Champlain Valley; BFA-St. Albans; Rutland; Mount Mansfield; Colchester; Middlebury; Spaulding; Mount Anthony; Hartford; Burlington; Brattleboro; South Burlington and St. Johnsbury.
North Country; U-32; Lyndon; Milton; Springfield; Bellows Falls; Burr and Burton; Fair Haven; Rice Memorial and Otter Valley.
BFA-Fairfax; Windsor; Mount Abraham; Mill River; Woodstock; Poultney; Montpelier; Oxbow; Winooski and Mount St. Joseph.
Division I will now have eight playoff teams, four more than in past years. The six Division I teams that don't qualify for the playoffs will complete their regular-season schedules with games against each other during the season's final weekend. Four-team playoff fields will remain in Division II and Division III.
“I think everybody Is where they belong,” Provost said. “There shouldn't be a lot of realigning over the next two years, which there shouldn't be. I'm not a big fan of division-hopping.”
CVU opened its season with a 34-0 victory over Burlington; Middlebury beat Mount Mansfield 14-0, and Hartford – last year's Division I champion – defeated Colchester 41-19.
“I think all four teams [new to Division I] will compete just fine,” Provost said. “I think the VPA [Vermont Principals' Association] did the right thing. If there are any problems we don't know about them yet.”
Highlights from high school football's opening weekend:
BFA-St. Albans, which lost to Hartford in last year's Division I championship game, beat St. Johnsbury 34-7.
Milton's Mike McClellan ran for 313 yards and five touchdowns in a 46-39 victory over Lyndon. McClellan scored the go-ahead TD with 1:10 to play.
Taylor Noonan scored on a 6-yard run in overtime to give BFA-Fairfax a 28-22 triumph over Woodstock.
Senior running back Connor DeVarney rushed for 213 yards and four touchdowns on 16 carries in South Burlington's 46-13 triumph over Rutland.
Middlebury was held to four first downs in its 14-0 victory over Mount Mansfield. Middlebury scored on an 84-yard punt return and a 75-yard TD pass.
Nick LeClair ran for 183 yards and five TDs in North Country's 50-0 victory over Spaulding.
Brattleboro, which was 0-9 last season, opened with a 26-20 win over Essex.
Rice, last year's Division II champion, shut out U-32, 42-0.
Quarterback/running back Sam Kelly scored four touchdowns to help Oxbow beat Mount St. Joseph 67-7.
GOING BIG-GAME HUNTING
Hartford (1-0) at BFA-St. Albans (1-0)
Hartford and BFA-St. Albans, teams that met in last year's Division I championship game, will reunite Friday night in St. Albans. BFA-St. Albans won last year's regular-season meeting 42-0 in wet conditions, but Hartford won its third championship in the last four years by posting a 33-0 victory in the Division I championship game.
RICE HIRES MERCHANT
Jamie Merchant was hired as Rice's varsity baseball coach last month. Merchant replaced Lloyd Bachand, who resigned shortly after the Green Knights lost last year's Division I championship game.
Merchant pitched at Rice and went on to play Division I baseball at the University of Vermont. He also played minor league baseball in the Houston Astros' organization.
Merchant has been inducted into the Rice Athletic Hall of Fame, and has had his number retired by the school.
FEISS GUIDING WINOOSKI
Stephen Feiss is in his first season as Winooski's boys soccer coach.
Feiss, who has coached soccer and lacrosse in Massachusetts, replaced Cory Payson, who is now the varsity girls coach at Milton. Payson spent 14 years as Winooski's coach, and guided the Spartans to the 2009 championship game.
Roger Brown has covered high school sports in New England since 1992. He currently covers high school and college football in the Northeast for ESPN/Scouts Inc.