OPINION-Playoff havoc now a snow job for everybody

February 24, 2001

OPINION-Playoff havoc now a snow job for everybody

Middletown boys basketball coach Jon Jarrett sounded like he had lost his dog. Heck, his Knights hadn't even lost a game, but that probably wouldn't have been much solace to him anyway.

"Beep - Hi Dan ... this is Jon Jarrett from Middletown. (Sigh) The game against Walkersville has been moved to tomorrow at 7 (deep breath) ... at Thomas Johnson. Thanks. - Beep"

That was the message on my answering machine Friday afternoon. After that Class 2A West first-round game got snowed out on Thursday, it got moved to 3:30 Friday because Middletown was also hosting the Class 2A/1A West wrestling meet this weekend. That started at 6, knocking the game out of a normal 7 p.m. start.

And Jarrett desperately wanted that home game.

"Hey, we're supposed to have one," he said Thursday night. "They wanted us to play it at Frederick High, but we're supposed to have it here. So this is what we'll do."


Then his game got postponed again Friday - by sunshine. Now the Knights have to go to Frederick anyway, all because of some pretty pathetic weather prognostication, a dubious rule and a goofed-up playoff system.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> There was no school on Friday in Washington County. Or Frederick County. Or Berkeley County. Or Carroll County.

Of course we all know why. It was because of that pesky snow, set to wreak havoc on us in the cleanup stages after Thursday's mess. The folks in West Virginia even had the foresight to call off Friday classes on Thursday night - no sense making people get up extra early to find out if they have school or not.

Well, it was a good thought.

I'm sure boards of education were cringing about noontime, when the sun was shining bright and five inches of snow had turned into a good day's business for area street drainage systems.

So they made a mistake. The folks here in Washington County call off school at the drop of a hat, so it's not like it was out of line.

Here's the problem, though: If there is no school, there are no extracurricular activities. No band. No field trips. And no sports. During the regular season, this is tolerable. You've got almost three months worth of dates to play with, and eventually everything works itself out.

In the playoffs, though, it turns into a mad dash to jam everything in before the next round starts. Both the 2A/1A and 4A/3A regional wrestling tournaments have turned into some bizarre survival-of-the-fittest contest in lycra. Basketball games are being shoehorned into times and places on Saturday, because the winners turn right back around for the quarterfinals on Monday night. It isn't helping that the girls playoffs also start on Saturday, creating even more chaos for athletic directors, who have to find officials, bus drivers, teachers for concessions and everything else - again.

So why not give schools the option of playing later that night if they want? Friday was a beautiful night for basketball in Middletown and, instead, D.J. Costello, Cory Hoffman and pals could have been cruising the strip in Frederick. The risk involved would be minimal since it would still be an option. It would also help the kids by lessening the number of make-up games crammed into the regular-season schedule - no more four-game weeks.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> The other problem lies in the fact that Jarrett is even worrying about a home playoff game with an 11-11 team. The Maryland playoff system ends up rewarding bad teams instead of good ones in a feeble attempt to make everyone happy. If 10-12 Walkersville happens to win (and that's entirely possible) 20-2 Fort Hill - 20-2! - would have to come from the hinterlands to play its first game in a very hostile environment.

Another example: North Hagerstown, which set a school record for regular season wins, may also not get its first game at home. If North Carroll wins at Seneca Valley tonight, the Hubs must make a 60-mile trip through the Catoctin National Forest to beautiful and scenic Hampstead, Md., for their quarterfinal matchup.

What's the point of having a 20-win regular season under this system? Tim McNamee might have gotten more home games had the Hubs tanked about 15 contests this season.

Fixing this is a simple, two-step process.

1. Seed all the teams in a region, not just four. Get the coaches all together on a Saturday afternoon (currently, only coaches from prospective seeds usually attend the meetings before the MPSSAA draw), and let them figure it out. Let them present their pluses and minuses and then set the region up properly.

2. Play all the games at a neutral site. Use the junior colleges or smaller universities or a high school that isn't in that region (have 2A West at Frederick High for example). Play the first round games on one day, the quarters two days later, etc. No one gets any advantage this way. The MPSSAA and the schools probably won't buy into this because they "lose money."

So now we wait. And Jarrett waits. And then he'll have to hurry up. And he really shouldn't have to.

The rules, however, say he does.

Dan Spears is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131 ext. 2334 or by e-mail at:

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