Previews and schedules ...Division II, team-by-team

Division III, team-by-team

Division II schedules

Division III schedules

It’s a whole new ballgame this high school football season for teams in Divisions II and III.

Instead of last year’s three-conference lineup in Division III, the school system’s smallest schools have been consolidated into two six-team conferences.

Division II has been adjusted, as well, but only slightly, with Aviano returning from a year in Division III — but the big difference will be at the end of the season, when eight teams advance to the postseason.

The expanded playoffs — four teams in each division advanced last season — come with a price, though, and coaches seem split on whether it is a good idea.

“I’m loving it,” Vilseck coach Tim Connolly said of the new postseason format. “It gives a developing team a chance to make the playoffs.”

Under the new system, Connolly’s team would have made the playoffs last year. Vilseck opened last season with four losses, but finished with two impressive wins, and missed the postseason.

“Last season, we generated a little momentum at the end,” Connolly said, “and if you can get into the playoffs, who knows what can happen? We figure this year, one victory gets a team in.”

Rota’s Ben Anderson — whose team sat out the 2001 season because of post-9/11 security concerns and now competes against Division III foes Menwith Hill, London Central, Alconbury, Brussels and Sigonella — is also a proponent.

“I am pleased with the Division III format,” he said, “and believe that it was a very creative way to make cuts in the budget without hurting the student athletes.”

To accommodate the new playoff schedule, teams had to sacrifice one of their precious six regular-season games. It’s a point that rankles first-year Giessen coach James Lloyd.

“I don’t like five games before the playoffs,” he said. “You should have at least seven games.”

Aviano’s Ken McNeely also opposes the shortened season.

“The last-place team loses a game,” McNeely said, “but the format does allow a team to grow and develop without being eliminated [from the postseason] in the first couple of weeks.”

That learning period will prove particularly important for 271-pupil Aviano, which will take on near-600-enrollment schools, such as Naples and Patch. Those three teams, along with Hanau and Vilseck, will form the new Division II South.

Former South squad Mannheim joins AFNORTH, Bitburg, two-time defending European champion International School of Brussels and SHAPE in Division II North.

“They put us there,” said McNeely, whose Saints have historically competed successfully at the D-2 level. “They didn’t want us to play Division III schools.”

For his part, Rob Stewart, whose ISB Raiders will put an 11-game winning streak on the line in Saturday’s opener at AFNORTH, is more than happy to trade a regular-season game for a postseason one.

“I like it,” he said. “Playoff football’s fun.”

Mannheim’s Burt Blank also is fully on board with the new structure.

“It’s a nice plan,” he said. “It shows a little vision and puts football on par with basketball and soccer” — sports in which just one team misses the postseason.

“The kids like it, too,” Brussels coach Joe Fiedler said. “We play in our own conference, which is good. It should come out better.”

The D-2 and D-3 playoffs begin Oct. 18, with the top two teams in each conference hosting the No. 4s and No. 3s of the other, respectively.

The semis are set for the following Saturday, with the two finalists in each division squaring off Nov. 1 in Baumholder.

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