Preparation and playing by the rules are two of the cornerstones of high school athletics.

But, in the spirit of gamesmanship, naturally, and in this bizarre winter season, the opportunity to take advantage of any, well ... advantage, has turned the athletic schedule into an arms race of sorts when it comes to practicing.

In the FCIAC, whether to play or practice or not is based on individual districts' rules, not conference standards. Therefore, when schools are closed, the majority prohibit practices and contests for fear of liability.

But not all do. Trinity Catholic and St. Joseph, for instance, do not have a district to answer to, rather a diocese. Both schools have the option of practicing when classes are canceled, giving them a greater advantage over the public schools -- especially in sports like basketball.

In other conferences, the individual schools have more freedom to decide whether or not to practice.

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In the Southern Connecticut Conference, eight of the 20 schools --including Fairfield Prep "'have the option to practice on days when schools are closed. Prep, however, is the only school unable to play games on such days.

How often is the option to play or practice used? I'm not sure, but if the opportunity to practice exists, you have to think coaches are going to want to use it.

If teams can keep their routines intact or get another day to prepare for an opponent, it could spell the difference between winning and losing. Every contest is crucial, especially in these leagues where one game will undoubtedly be the difference between making the conference playoffs or not.

This inequity has been proven in the Southwest Conference, as well. Last week when the entire region was buried by 15 more inches of snow, ND-Fairfield boys basketball was able to practice, while its next opponent, Weston, could not for two straight days.

The result? ND 70, Weston 44.

More talented teams will most often beat lesser-talented ones, no matter the practice conditions. The Lancers are better than the Trojans and would beat them 48 out of 50 times.

That extra practice day still undoubtedly added to the winning margin.

With districts so ready to cancel school due to the litany of weather woes, we've had over the past few weeks -- Fairfield has not had a full week of school yet in 2011 -- the ability to practice is turning more into a privilege for some but not all.

And that kind of stinks.