By Phil Anastasia
The Cape Atlantic League's bold decision to shut down the Lower Cape May varsity football program will have a ripple effect, impacting several other teams and possibly altering the league's future alignment in the sport.
Mainland athletic director Mike Gatley, the CAL president, said league officials voted Thursday to force Lower Cape May to forfeit the rest of its varsity games and finish the season as a junior-varsity program.
Gatley said the vote was 14-3 with five abstentions.
Gatley said Lower Cape May officials told CAL officials that the school decided to forfeit the team's game against Holy Spirit on Friday because of "safety concerns."
As a result, Gatley said, the league decided to shut down the varsity program.
"If you have a safety concern on this Friday, you have a safety concern on Nov. 1 and on the week after that," Gatley said.
Lower Cape May atheltic director Mark Schiffbauer said the other night that the team has seven freshman in the starting lineup and has lost several players over the last few weeks to injuries.
He said the team wanted to "take the next two weeks and hopefully get healthy."
LCM is 0-5 and its average margin of defeat has been 42.6 points.
Holy Spirit is 6-0 and No. 1 in The Inquirer Top 25 rankings.
Gatley indicated that LCM wanted to forfeit the game against Holy Spirit and play its remaining games -- at Ocean City Nov. 1; home vs. Cedar Creek Nov. 8; in an NJSIAA consolation game on the weekend of Nov. 15-16 and home vs. Middle Township on Thanksgiving.
But Gatley indicated that it wasn't in the best interest of the CAL to allow teams to "pick and choose" what teams they would be willing to play once a schedule was established.
"If they are worried about 14 year-old kids playing varsity this Friday, they still will be 14-year-old kids next week and the week after that and the week after that," Gatley said.
The decision impacts the teams that will be forced to take a forfeit, costing athletes on those squads the oportunity to play in a game, generate statistics and possibly attract interest from colleges.
The decision might be most acutely felt by Middle Township, since the annual Thanksgiving Day game with Lower Cape May -- known as the Anchor Bowl -- usually draws a large crowd, engaging both communities and alumni from both schools.
But there are potentially longer-term implications as well.
Holy Spirit is scheduled to move down from the CAL American Division to the National Division next season in a re-alignment for the 2014-15 scheduling cycle.
Holy Spirit coach John Iannucci said the other night that it was "a joke" that the league would place the Spartans in a division with a team such as LCM that has forfeited a game to them.
Gatley said the CAL's football alignment committee would have to "re-convene" to look at different scenarios in the wake of this development.
Among the issues, Gatley said, is whether LCM will be able to field a competitive varsity team in 2014, and whether Holy Spirit should be placed in the National Division with programs such as LCM and Pleasantville.
An alternate is to have Holy Spirit stay in the American Division. But with St. Joseph also in the division and St. Augustine Prep scheduled to move up to the American Division from the National Division, another issue that would arise in that scenario is the reluctance of some public schools to play all three of the CAL's non-public teams.
The CAL also could look at establishing three divisions in football.
"This could get messy," Gatley said.
Gatley also indicated that there was a possibility that LCM could protest the CAL's decision and try to play its remaining games.
Schiffbauer was not available for comment on Thursday.
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