By: Brian Fees | Towanda Daily Review | April 1, 2013
The NTL will have a completely new look for sports next season as the East and West will be gone.
Beginning next year divisions will be based on the student population instead of the location. There will be a large school (Division I) and small school (Division II) for all sports that have 11 or more teams.
For sports with less than 11 teams there will just be one NTL with a single champion.
Because of the changes some traditional rivals, like Sayre and Athens, Wellsboro and Mansfield and Troy and Canton, will now be in opposite divisions, meeting just once in league play per year.
"When we play them we always get great crowds," Wellsboro boys' basketball coach Todd Outman said of playing Mansfield. "It's a great environment. Only playing them once a year as opposed two twice a year is hard."
While they won't be in the same division, Athens girls' basketball coach Kelly Burkhart thinks the rivalry with Sayre will stay intact.
"It will be different only playing Sayre one time a year, but it is what it is," she said. "I think it will still have a rivalry affect when we play them."
While teams will only play the opponents once a year in league play, it doesn't mean they can't pick up a second game against traditional rivals as a non-league game.
For baseball this year, Canton is in the West and Towanda is in the East, but the two teams will still play twice.
"We play Canton twice and we only had to play them once, but it was a good matchup for us," Towanda coach Bill Sexton said. "You might see some rivals do the same thing."
The one tough thing for many schools, and fans, might be getting used to different matchups.
"I just don't want to lose the closeness," Towanda boys' basketball coach Ryan Napp said. "I like the closeness of playing the teams in the East and this will definitely be different."
For people like Napp, who played in the NTL, losing games against teams like Sayre and Canton in favor of matchups against teams like Wellsboro and Williamson is tough.
While it will be a big adjustment, there are some coaches who think at times the teams in the East and West were almost too close and lost a little competitiveness.
"People don't react to change very well," said Wayne Pratt, the softball coach at Canton and girls' soccer coach at Troy. "The one good thing I feel about the NTL, a lot of these kids play together on travel ball, they know each other well, going against other areas they don't feel the pressure to not go hard against their friends.
"In the olden days you were going after Towanda and you wanted to beat them. You were going against Athens and you wanted to beat them. With Facebook and Twitter, everyone talks to everyone now. Getting out of our area, playing some teams where we don't know everyone, and don't know their strengths and weaknesses I think it can be good."
The one thing coaches know might be a positive is playing teams that are closer in size to them, especially as they get closer to the postseason.
"Having strong competition toward the end of the season will be a nice advantage," Outman said. "Before you were playing smaller schools late in the year, now you will be playing bigger schools."
"I will be curious to see how it plays out," Napp said. "We get to play Wellsboro home and away each year and they are a very good program."
While it means many of the larger schools get to see other larger schools late in the season, there are benefits for the smaller schools to face teams their size.
"I think when it comes to softball it will be nice because we are going up against schools our own size," Pratt said. "Ultimately we excel up here in softball, every team is competitive whether they are large school or small school so it will be nice to face schools your size."
While most sports will have a large/small school format next year, boys' soccer is the one sport that was using an East/West format, but will now go to one league with 10 teams.
Girls' soccer already was working in an East/West format, but this will be an adjustment for some boys teams.
"Us being a bigger school for soccer in the past I have enjoyed going down and playing against teams that we potentially play in districts but now the schedule won't provide for that the same," Athens boys' soccer coach Jake Lezak said. "For single A teams they will play against teams that are possibly better than what they are going to play against in districts so that should help them. That's the biggest problem for me right now, just not having the ability to play some of the teams we might see in districts."
The one positive that Lezak sees is that all the teams in the East and West have gotten more competitive over the years, making it a much more talented league.
"Williamson I see as a very up and coming season, this past season they had a relatively strong team, I don't see that as a weak opponent" Lezak said. "I don't see Wellsboro as a weak team or Northern Potter. We tied Wellsboro and lost to Potter 1-0. Williamson is combined now, they have the kids from Elkland who want to play and Liberty is a good team and it's tough to see them go, but hopefully those kids still get an opportunity to all play at Mansfield.
"I think the level as a whole is starting to rise, coaches are becoming more proactive in the offseason. It showed it's impact over at Northeast, those guys have been playing in the offseason and it shows. Troy plays in the offseason and it shows. Northern Potter, they have a youth program and it gives them a solid foundation." While boys soccer might lose the opportunity for a few non-league matchups, with Liberty closing, basketball on both sides gains a couple extra games.
"The great part is we get two extra games on our schedule where we can go schedule some different teams," Napp said.
For Burkhart the extra games means a chance to get into a competitive Christmas Tournament.
"The positive out of it is six non-league games in the schedule," Burkhart said. "We can get back into a Christmas Tournament. It's going to be big for us getting tougher competition for those two games and getting an opportunity to play against bigger schools."
For Sexton the benefit to this schedule is actually having more guaranteed games in a sport where finding opponents can be tough.
"In baseball we have had trouble getting games," Sexton said. "You get frozen out of the Heartland and frozen out of District 2 and New York's schedule is really tough. This guarantees every team 15 regular season games.
"From my standpoint it doesn't effect us that much. Large school, small school, makes no difference. We get 15 games and five extra games we can go and get."
There are teams on both sides that coaches will be excited to add to the schedule.
"You are going to go out to these places every other year anyway," Sexton said. "If it's a competitive game, you don't mind. I don't mind going out to Wellsboro. I don't mind going out there for a Mansfield. The big thing is just having enough games. I know the guys in Tioga County were only getting 12 games and they had to play each other three times to get that. There were a lot of problems with the old baseball schedule, this means 15 games for everyone."
A year ago Troy was in the NTL West for many sports, while Canton was in the East. This year Canton is out West, while Troy is in the East. For Pratt it's nice to just have a set schedule from one year to the next.
"It will be nice as long as we can go two years with the same schedule," Pratt said. "That will be really nice. The girls need to be ready to go every night no matter what the competition is. Now, to have an actual set schedule that will be nice. Routine is good."
All the matchups against teams that are close to the same size as each other, opponents they could see in districts, can be both beneficial and tough.
"It's a good thing, and a bad thing," Napp said. "It's good to see those teams, but when you play them too often it becomes tough as well."
While some rivalries might be impacted by this change, some other rivalries might form for schools.
"I look forward to it," Outman said of playing some of the east teams. "Ryan Napp is an excellent coach at Towanda. Athens is a good team on that end. That is one thing I do look forward to. Bob (Woodward) does a a great job there (at Troy). A couple years ago they had some very good teams and they have some young kids there."
Playing other schools your size also means the possibility for rivalries among the divisions top teams.
"Competition is good and you always are going to have those teams that tend to be at the top of the division and that's how rivalries are built," Pratt said. "It could be us and Northeast, it could be us and Mansfield, but new rivalries can be good."
One of the tough things for many teams is going to be the travel to the other side.
Some trips could be upwards of an hour for teams, but Lezak thinks a lot of that is made easier with good scheduling.
"It is tough, but it's not something the programs aren't used to," Lezak said of the travel. "Hopefully the scheduling works out where you are not traveling multiple times in the same week, at least not of a long distance. I don't mind three road games in a week, but I would mind going to Northern Potter, then going to Galeton, and then going back to Northeast.
"They seem to do a pretty good job of avoiding that. Sometimes you can't, but if it's once a season, its' okay, they do a pretty good job though of making sure the kids academics are the main priority and not making it too bad."
For some sports this won't change anything. Sports like tennis, golf, cross country, girls' soccer, track and football already were one league during the season. Wrestling already has been doing a small school, large school format.
While this way may benefit some sports more than others and while some may agree with it and some may not, Sexton believes it's the best solution.
"I think this is the best way to do it for all the sports," Sexton said.