CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Today's the day the games start for real in the Mountain State Athletic Conference.
For the first time since the MSAC adopted its current format in the 2002-03 season, the divisional games - which determine the teams that advance to the league's Night of Champions - all begin on the same day.
So call it opening night, if you will, across the league.
The top boys games on tonight's card find Hurricane (8-2) at South Charleston (8-1), Winfield (5-3) at Huntington (7-0) and Riverside (4-2) at Capital (5-1).
Other divisional openers pit Princeton (4-6) at George Washington (6-2), Woodrow Wilson (5-2) at Parkersburg (3-6), Spring Valley (4-3) at St. Albans (2-5) and Nitro (0-8) at Cabell Midland (2-6).
The only MSAC team not scheduled to play a divisional game tonight is Ripley (2-8), as the East has just seven teams to the West's eight.
Previously, the conference sprinkled its divisional games throughout the season, or wherever teams could find room on their schedule.
Not this season, which is the last under the current format, since schools complained that the cross-division games had little or no bearing in the standings. They were used in rare tie-breaker occasions, usually when two or more teams tied for one spot.
Next season, all games against league opponents will count in determining top teams in the two divisions.
East teams are scheduled to play six divisional games over the next month, and the West seven. Schools that finish with the best record in their respective divisions tangle in the title game of the MSAC Night of Champions, set for 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22, again at the South Charleston Community Center.
The boys runner-up teams in each division play in the second-place game at 4 p.m. that day. Woodrow Wilson beat South Charleston in last year's boys championship game.
Teams that finish third through eighth in their divisions hold place-winner games in the days prior to the Night of Champions.
HIT-ting the road