Rhode Island highschool soccer division format to get a shakeup

The 2021 high school football season is returning to a more traditional look.

Divisional breakdowns for the 2021 season were posted to the Providence Journal Tuesday morning and were later confirmed by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League for this fall.

Out is the Power Four and the five division format of the state. The four-division setup returns, but five Super Bowls continue to be played. The season is slated to begin on September 3rd with Injury Fund games. Non-league games will be played on the weekend of September 10th and league games the next weekend.

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In short, Division I will have two sub-divisions with seven teams. D-II will remain with two subdivisions with six teams. Eight teams are playing in D-III and nine in Division IV. Super bowls are scheduled for November 20 and 21, and the Thanksgiving Day games are back on the agenda.

Changes to Department I

The biggest change is the abandonment of the one-year Power Four experiment. Last spring, the division consisted of Hendricken, La Salle, North Kingstown and Portsmouth. They were the only four schools that could win the state title.

Portsmouth – the smallest school in the division – asked from the Power Four what a problem was how to give teams a chance to fight for a state title. In 2019, the RIIL awarded Super Bowl seats to the top teams in Division IA and IB. Controversy arose when North Kingstown – in the same subdivision as Hendricken – was the clear number 2 in the state but had no chance of playing for the title.

After spending a season in the Power Four, quarterback Ben Hurd and Portsmouth will play in an expended division that has two subdivisions this season.

The division of the Power Four was an admirable change, but the schedule for next fall seems more ideal. Division I will return in IA and IB formats with seven teams in each subdivision.

In IA, the state champion Hendricken is supported by the DI champion Central and the DI runner-up East Greenwich as well as Cranston East, Portsmouth, South Kingstown and Woonsocket (who were canceled last spring).

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State runner-up La Salle leads IB along with North Kingstown. Burrillville, Cranston West, Cumberland, East Providence and Shea make up the remainder of the division.

Three of the programs in DI did not want to be there. Cranston East and East Providence, traditional DI teams, asked to step down after tough seasons over the past two years. East Greenwich – a year after the parents threatened the RIIL after they were moved to DI just to play the team in the Super Bowl last spring – also asked them to pull. All three were rejected.

The playoff structure for DI is that four teams on each side advance to a playoff system with two brackets.

The top two in each sub-division are eligible to play for the State Championship Super Bowl as part of a four-team tournament. The losers of the semifinal game advance to the semifinals of the Division I tournament, while the winners have a bye before playing in the State Championship Super Bowl.

The 3rd and 4th places of the IA and IB will compete against each other in the DI quarters, with the winners meeting the losers from the quarters of the state championship class in the semifinals.

What does Department II look like?

Division II sees no major changes and returns with two subdivisions with six teams.

Defending champion Barrington leads II-A and is supported by D-III Champion Coventry. The D-II playoff qualifier Mount Pleasant is there as well as Lincoln, Rogers and Moses Brown.

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St. Raphael, the runner-up in D-II, is in II-B, along with D-II semi-finalists Westerly and D-III semi-finalists Classical. Berg Hope, Tolman, and West Warwick make up the remainder of the subdivision.

Three teams in D-II asked to be moved down or to stay in their division. Classical – losing Gatorade Player of the Year Sam Baddoo – was one of the three, as was Lincoln and West Warwick, both of whom went without a win that spring.

Three teams from each sub-division qualify for the playoffs, with the top-ranked teams earning a bye to the semifinals. As in the past, the No. 2 seeds will host the No. 3 seeds from the opposite subdivision for the quarter-final round.

A new look for Division III

Division III sees a lot of changes with teams moving either way.

From D-II comes the D-III champion of 2019 Pilgrim, who went 0-2 in D-II in the spring. Middletown, who went 0-3 in D-II, are also falling behind.

Trent Sotelho and Middletown drop to Division III after years in Division II.

From D-IV comes the defense of champion Narragansett as well as Toll Gate, which seemed out of place in D-IV as a large city school compared to small suburban programs.

D-III Super Bowl runner-up Johnston is back in D-III, along with Chariho and North Smithfield / Mount St. Charles. Central Falls is also returning after being eliminated from last season, but will play co-op with Blackstone Valley Prep, earning it the title as the longest-named team in the division.

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North Smithfield / MSC and Toll Gate both asked to go downstairs but were refused.

The Division III playoff structure is simple – the top six teams enter, with the top two seeds receiving a bye.

No drama in Division IV

Division IV remains a nine-team division but will not see any dramatic additions.

D-IV runner-up Ponaganset is back and Tiverton, who won the D-IV title in 2018 and lost in the D-IV Super Bowl 2019, is stepping down from D-III. Juanita Sanchez / Providence Country Day also drops from D-III.

Exeter / West Greenwich / Prout are back as a returning playoff team. Rounding out the division is Davies – who won its first game last spring – Hope, North Providence, Scituate and Smithfield.

The best four teams reach the playoffs.

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