The new and expanded Anthracite Football League is still over 18 months away from debuting its 11-team look, but fans received an early peak at what the future will look like.
On Tuesday, the AFL released the 2014 and 2015 league schedules.
The addition of Lehighton and Blue Mountain to the current nine-team football league, created a bit of an awkward scheduling quirk. Because of the that, Shenandoah will have a completely closed league schedule, playing each of the other 10 league schools. Meanwhile, the rest of the league will play just nine league opponents and have one bye week to schedule a non-league opponent.
"There was no perfect way to do an 11-team schedule," said Lehighton Athletic Director Kyle Spotts. "But all the schools involved thought this was the best way.
"We worked with schools to allow anyone who had an end of the season rivalry game to keep it and also with schools that needed a particular bye week to keep a non-league game in place on their schedule."
That meant the Jim Thorpe vs. Lehighton and Marian vs. Tamaqua games will stay in week 10. It also meant that North Schuylkill was given the week 7 bye so it can play Mt. Carmel and that Blue Mountain was given the week 3 bye to play Pottsville.
"It was kept as fair as possible," said Spotts. "Schools drew random numbers out of a bag to see what league school would be the one you didn't play during the first two years.
"From our perspective, it really worked out well. We get to play all the bigger schools in the league, we get to keep Jim Thorpe in our regular season finale, and we also get to play our other local rivals in the league Panther Valley, Marian and Tamaqua."
The school Lehighton will not play is Schuylkill Haven. Spotts said Lehighton will have the week 5 bye and that the Indians have identified several possible opponents for that week, but have not finalized anything.
While Spotts liked the way the draw worked for Lehighton, Marian and Jim Thorpe weren't quite as lucky. The Colts and Olympians, who have played the last 11 seasons and consider each other among their top rivals, will not play in 2014 and 2015.
"Overall, I think the addition of Lehighton and Blue Mountain is great for the Anthracite Football League," said Marian Athletic Director and football coach Stan Dakosty. "We're bringing in two quality football programs. It also reduces the number of non-league games we have to fill on our schedule which, from an athletic director perspective, is very important.
"Unfortunately, the way the schedule worked out, we will be losing a big rivalry game with Jim Thorpe for two years. That's definitely the downside. But our schedule is still going to be very strong and very competitive and we thought it was important that we got to keep our game against Tamaqua in the final week of the regular season."
The Colts have a week 1 bye on the league schedule and Dakosty said they have already filled that spot with Williams Valley. Jim Thorpe has a week 4 bye.
Defending AFL champion Tamaqua will not play Mahanoy Area in 2014 and 2015 and have a week 2 bye date. Panther Valley will miss Blue Mountain in the league rotation and have to fill a week 8 bye.
"We still have some things to work out," said Spotts. "We haven't done any work on tie-breakers and with Shenandoah playing more games then the rest of the league teams that could be a little tricky. We also haven't done anything beyond 2015 as far schedules are concerned or about rotating opponents.
"I think those things are on everyone's radar and we will probably be tackling those items at our next league meeting. But for now, we just wanted to get the schedules out so everyone knew what bye week they had to fill and could start working on that."