The talking points on the optimistic side of the Lancaster-Lebanon/Berks football merger have pretty much been covered since the measure was approved two weeks ago.
The merger, which take effect in 2022, will give schools a better chance at matching up against opponents within their classification. Smaller schools like Pequea Valley and Columbia will have an easier time finding opponents of equal size and talent. Some of the nonleague dates that both L-L and Berks teams have had trouble filling the last two years will be replaced by league games. Any increase in travel costs for L-L schools will apparently be minimal. And the L-L is being a good neighbor in assisting a league in Berks County that had been looking for a dance partner.
But there were talking points on the other side of the argument, too. Points that weighed heavily for the five L-L schools that voted against the merger: Cocalico, Donegal, Elco, Octorara and Penn Manor.
Foremost in their concerns, they felt the league should have stuck with the three-section, eight-team format that had been in place for most of the last 40-plus years.
“I don’t think that’s a bad system,” Cocalico coach Bryan Strohl said. “If it wasn’t broke, don’t break it.”
That format could have been achieved when Octorara joined the L-L two years ago.
“We brought in Octorara as that 24th school,” longtime Elco athletic director Doug Bohannon said. “We could’ve had three sections of eight then.”
Octorara was placed in Section Three. But so, too, were Lebanon and Ephrata, two large schools with struggling programs that were bumped down to small-school Section Three. It resulted in a 10-team Section Three, seven teams apiece in Sections One and Two, and Section One/Two crossovers which many coaches haven’t enjoyed.
“This is not what we anticipated,” Octorara coach Jed King said.
Octorara had come to the L-L two years ago from the Ches-Mont League.
“Speaking for me and not Octorara,” King said. “I’m against it in that it feels like the whole District Three is basically in one league now.”
The L-L League/Berks merger will lead to the second 37-team league in District Three; the Tri-Valley League is merging with the Mid-Penn Conference this coming season for a 37-team league. Most of the remaining District Three football teams are in the York-Adams League.
“It’s getting to a point where you mind as well just put us all together,” King said. “And pick names out of a hat to determine who you are playing in the regular season.”
Donegal athletic director Ron Kennedy feels more importance is now being placed on a district playoff spot over winning a section title.
“I started playing football at Donegal when I was 15 or 16,” Kennedy said. “Battling for a section title was huge. That’s what we lived for. We didn’t have the 10-team, 12-team, 14-team district playoffs. So back then you weren’t promised a district playoff spot. You battled for section titles. Bo (Bohannon) and I hang on to this as being very important.”
It’s worth noting Donegal, Elco, Octorara and defending District Three Class 5A champion Cocalico are projected to be in a juggernaut Section Four alongside the 2019 District Three champion in 4A (Lampeter-Strasburg) and 3A (Wyomissing) along with 4A finalist Berks Catholic.
“The section would be extremely competitive,” King said. “And you’ll be getting teams from schools closer in size playing each other. Is that fair? Yes. But it’s taking away from what the L-L was and not making it better, in my opinion.”
“The bottom line is it’s a democracy and we lost,” Bohannon said. “So we’ll play whoever we have to play.”