Down to six football teams, the SCIAC is forced to change format

The CMS and PP football teams set up to begin another match.
CMS and P-P football face off on Nov. 12 2022 at the last game of the regular season (Jonathan Ke • The Student Life)

On Feb. 28, 2023, the SCIAC issued a statement announcing the establishment of a championship football game starting in the Fall 2023 season.

This development came after Whittier decided to terminate their football program after last season. Following Occidental, who dropped their program in 2018, and Caltech, which has not had a football team since 1993, the SCIAC Conference now only has six football teams competing. In an effort to retain the number of games that the remaining teams get to play in hopes of keeping SCIAC football alive, the conference, with the help of the coaches, decided to change the format.

Kyle Sweeney, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) football head coach and SCIAC football committee chair, said that the decision was collaborative. 

“[SCIAC] involved all of the coaches in the conference and took ideas from everyone. We were involved all of the way through,” Sweeney said.

Starting next year, the six teams will be divided into two different pods, organized on a two-year cycle. Each of the pods will play the other teams in their pods twice and the teams in the other pod once, ensuring seven games will still count toward conference standings. The teams with the best record from each pod will play each other in the championship game.

Despite losing Whittier, Sagehen wide receiver Quinten Wimmer PZ ’24 who earned All-Region Third Team honors from, believes the new system has the potential to create even greater energy within the SCIAC.

“I love the idea of a championship game,” Wimmer said. It’s not only going to increase fan levels at games, but it’s going to make the SCIAC a whole lot more exciting. When you have two pods and the teams are fighting to get the top seed, it’s going to make everything that much more competitive.”

For the 2023 and 2024 seasons, the pods are as follows: Cal Lutheran, Chapman and CMS are in one, while La Verne, Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) and Redlands compete in the other. With this format, It is possible that CMS and P-P will play each other for the championship. The Sixth Street Rivalry game in the past has always taken place the last week of the regular season, but it is usually not for the championship, except for last year.

Last fall, P-P defeated CMS in the final game of the season to claim co-ownership of the SCIAC title and earning them the SCIAC’s sole ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the Sagehens’ first trip to Nationals in program history. Sagehens head coach John Walsh said that winning that last game was exhilarating.

“It was something our school hadn’t won since 1955 when it was the Pomona-Claremont football team. It was exciting to be a part of it,” Walsh said.

For Walsh, P-P’s one-of-a-kind rivalry with CMS adds another level of pressure and excitement to this new format. The two teams will not face off in the last week of the regular season unless both teams win their pods. In that case, CMS and P-P will once again compete for the title of SCIAC Champions. Walsh said he is looking forward to the upcoming rivalry game.

“We have the greatest, most unique rivalry in the country with CMS, and that has always been an awesome way to end the regular season,” Walsh said. “This coming year, that game is in September so this definitely changes that. I am optimistic about it and I hope it is successful”

Wimmer, who dominated the game against CMS, contributing to three of P-P’s four scores with two receiving and one passing touchdown, explained the team is already looking to next season.

“We’re on [a] next-step mentality,” Wimmer said. I’ll be a captain next season. That starts now … There were a lot of [times] last year where we knew we didn’t play our best football and we didn’t play our best as a unit … The way the coaches are saying it [is that] last year is the standard. That was as low as we could have gone and now we just have to keep stacking on top.”

This fall, conference play will begin on Sept. 23.

“We’re excited, we can’t wait for the football season to start again,” Walsh said. “Like anything else, you have to try something until you judge it. I’m going into it optimistic and I just want our players to get the opportunity to play 10 games and try to be the best we can be.”

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