You are used to it in Major League Baseball's American League and
National League. You are used to it in the National Football League's
American Football Conference and National Football Conference.
Now get used to it for high school sports in Portage County.
Beginning this fall, the two divisions in the Portage County League will be called 'American' and 'National.' And that isn't the only change.
For the first time, the alignment of the divisions will be based on the size of each school.
"I think bigger schools want to play better competition so that they can have better exposure for their athletes," said Streetsboro athletic director Gary Huber. "That is one of the biggest reasons for the realignment ... We chose the names of the division for lack of a better alternative. There were a lot of ideas, like 'black' and 'blue' divisions, but I guess those weren't anything more original than 'American' and 'National.'
The new American Division will consist of the 'big' schools (Crestwood, Field, Garfield, Southeast and Streetsboro), while the 'small' schools (Mogadore, Rootstown, Waterloo, Windham and Woodridge) will comprise the National Division.
One advantage the new system will have for bigger schools will come in football, where playing larger-enrollment teams can help in adding precious computer points towards making the state playoffs at the end of the season.
"I know Southeast and Crestwood have never made it to the state playoffs," said Southeast athletic director Dick Young. "They've had undefeated seasons and never made it to the tournament because of the computer rankings."
Four years ago, the PCL made it easier for teams like Southeast and Crestwood to add other big schools to the football schedule by moving to a North-South Division alignment. Under the two-division system, teams only play league games during the last five weeks of the season.
"The division system allows teams to have more time to play outside the league," said Young. "It allows you to aim the direction of your program. You can go out and schedule four big schools for your first four games, or you can play four smaller schools. Now a team like Southeast can field a schedule that includes teams like Canfield, Coventry, Kent Roosevelt and West Branch."
According to Young, that type of schedule will help expose the PCL to the rest of the state.
And with the new 'big' and 'small' system, the bigger teams are assured of playing at least four league games against teams of like enrollment.
But not everyone is happy with the realignment.
Despite the PCL voting three years ago to adopt the big-small alignment for this year, a recent vote by the Portage County League executive committee, made up of high school principals, resulted in a 5-5 vote of approval.
Some schools claimed the new format eliminates traditional football rivalries like Windham vs. Garfield or Waterloo vs. Southeast.
Garfield athletic director Jeff Torda, who's school narrowly edged Waterloo in enrollment for placement in the American Division, said the American and National divisions will take a while to get used to.
"Right now it is hard to say what I think of (the realignment)," said Torda. "We are the smallest of the 'big' schools, so our hands are pretty full right now. It is going to be tough for us, but we are going to give it the best shot we can."
But even though support for the big-small alignment appears somewhat lukewarm, it will not be drastically different from the North-South format of the past four years.
The one main difference will be that all cross-division games count in the standings to determine a divisional champion. Thus, each team will now play 13 contests instead of eight to determine a division champion, except in football and the sports which don't follow the new division format.
The PCL is committed to the American and National divisions for the next two years, and schedules have been drafted for four years.
"There has been realignment in sports leagues forever," said Young.
"Still, there are some schools who don't like the realignment. There
were things about the North and South divisions that people didn't like.
There are probably people who would like to go back to the old eight-
team PCL (without Mogadore and Woodridge) ... . We'll try this for a
while, and if it doesn't work, we'll try something else."