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Changes are coming to CCL, including vanquishing hoops tourney

  • Written by Frank Gogola

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Mike Shepski dribbles by St. Laurence’s Isiah Harvey in a game on Jan. 31. The two could face each other Sunday in the second round of the last Chicago Catholic League Tournament. 

Major changes are coming to the Chicago Catholic League, especially in boys basketball.

After a four-year run, this season’s ongoing CCL basketball tournament will be the last one. CCL basketball teams and other team sports will be realigned from a geographical model to a parity model in hopes of balancing competition and marketing the league.

Both changes were voted on and approved by the 18 CCL athletic directors by a majority vote. Specifics of the realignment are still being discussed.

Southwest Regional Publishing area schools that will be affected are Brother Rice, St. Laurence, St. Rita and Mt. Carmel.

Here are some of the more pressing issues:

End of the conference tournament

Area coaches and athletics directors spoke strongly in favor of wanting to keep the CCL tournament.

St. Rita athletic director Mike Zunica, St. Laurence AD Tim Chandler and Mt. Carmel AD Dan LaCount said they voted in favor of keeping the tournament.

While teams from most other conferences are playing through their conference a second time, CCL teams did so in a bracket format.

“The finality of the state tournament is like boom, you lose and your season is over, so you have to make every possession matter,” Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor said. The CCL tournament “gets you in that mindset before the state tournament.”

When Gary DeCesare started coaching at St. Rita in 2009-10, he was looking for a way to prepare for the state tournament other than just practices. League coaches bought in on the tournament idea, and he and Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino ran the first tournament following the 2013-14 season before the CCL took it over.

“The level of competition absolutely prepares them for the state tournament,” DeCesare said. “Everybody’s goal is to win a state title. This gives a Chicago Catholic League teams a chance to win a tournament, a championship.”

In the tournament’s first three years, Fenwick in 2016 was the only regular-season champion from the CCL North or South to win the tournament.

“Teams that weren’t in the running for a conference championship at the end of the season still had something to work toward at that point,” Chandler said. “It was awesome for the kids and the program to have a couple upsets and create that buzz. It almost had that March Madness feeling.”

The main opposition to the CCL tournament came from smaller schools. CCL teams in 1A or 2A start regionals one week before 3A and 4A, so they have almost no time off between the CCL tournament, which has a consolation bracket, and regionals.

Other issues were logistics and travel. Some games sites were set while others were determined by wins and losses, which could be an issue at co-ed schools if girls basketball was hosting a regional. There was a noticed a lack of interest in weeknight and neutral-site games, especially in the consolation bracket, with schools spread out in the northern, western and southern suburbs.

Zunica said there won’t be any CCL tournaments “in the near future.”

Conference realignment

CCL basketball realignment is part of an ongoing process to make the conference more appealing through a parity model that groups teams based on success.

The main factors in the parity model are conference records from the last two years, enrollment of male students instead of total enrollment since some schools are co-ed, and participation numbers in that sport to account for roster depth of larger schools, according to Providence Catholic athletic director Doug Ternik, who is on the CCL Parity Committee.

“Teams want to join a league where they know they can have a chance to compete,” Zunica said. “If you have different conferences with parity where that team could envision themselves in one of those divisions and have the ability to compete, then that would be attractive. That is the entire goal: to always be attractive to somebody if we wanted to expand.”

The realignment also evens out conferences. After Hales and Seton closed, the CCL South was left with eight teams and seven conference games, and the CCL North had 10 teams and nine conference games.

The proposed basketball model will be two nine-team conferences. They’re expected to play eight division games and three crossovers since there won’t be a tournament.

In the fall, soccer was the first to use a parity model, and boys volleyball will have a parity model this spring, although those were based more on an eye test than a scientific model. Baseball is expected to make the switch in spring 2018 and football in fall 2018. Other team sports will go to a parity model in the future.

It’s a great way to keep things fresh in the league, interest outside schools and make sure we remain the best conference in the state,” LaCount said.

Teams good at basketball but bad at soccer may be in the top basketball conference and a lower soccer conference. Not all sports using the parity model will be limited to two conferences. Football is expected to be four.

Parity model data will be rerun every two years to promote or relegate teams based on success. There’ll be an appeal process for school to appeal up or down a division, LaCount said.

Basketball realignment changes will continue to be discussed. They need to be approved by the school presidents and are expected to become official in May.