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Md. sports association makes a good call

April 27, 2003|by MARK KELLER

Though its motives have been questioned by some, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has always claimed to be working in the best interests of the state's high school athletes.

On Friday, the association proved that claim true with three moves that will benefit thousands of athletes across the state.

The MPSSAA Board of Control, a 66-member panel made up of administrators, supervisors and athletic directors, voted to double the number of football teams that qualify for the playoffs, agreed to institute a double-elimination format for the state wrestling tournament and reinstated the pole vault as a scoring event in track and field meets next school year.

Seen at times as an entity concerned only with its take, the MPSSAA got it right this time by seeing that these decisions would improve the athletic experience for so many children, families and fans.

By expanding the football playoffs alone - from 32 teams to 64 - as many as 1,000 youngsters will be playing football for another week.

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Now, don't doubt that the MPSSAA is making out in this deal, too. The state association receives the admission charges from state post-season games, so that's 16 more opportunities for revenue for them with the added round of playoffs.

Attendance for the added round of games should be high because games will be played regionally. For example, if a Washington County school in Class 1A - the smallest schools in the state - makes the post-season, it will play within the West region, made up of Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties.

Football playoff expansion has been a long time coming, especially since the state in 1997 implemented an open playoff system for most sports in which every team qualifies regardless of won-loss record.

Too often in the past, football teams that lost only one or two games in a season were left home for the playoffs because competition in their classification was so tight. Meanwhile, a soccer team that didn't win a game in the regular season not only made the playoffs, but played the game in front of its home crowd.

But that's an argument for another day.

The news for wrestling fans was doubly good, because by going to a full double-elimination format for the state tournament, the state is forced to find a new site for the season's final weekend.

For years, the state tournament has been held at McDaniel College, but the tournament has become too large for the facilities there.

Need proof of that? Ask anybody who has attended the tournament the last five years about the parking situation at McDaniel.

In an effort to cut down on possible crowd overflows, the state eliminated first-round wrestlebacks, meaning if you lose in the first round of the tournament, you're finished. Those who lost in subsequent rounds could wrestle until they lost again.

The MPSSAA is looking at the University of Maryland and Morgan State University as possible sites for the tournament next year. Chances are good the state will lock up one of the sites, ensuring the return of double elimination.

The return of the pole vault as a scoring event - it was relegated to exhibition status this year because of safety concerns - was especially welcome news to Washington County, which will be the first county in the state to have all of its pole vault pits certified to meet new standards set by the National Federation of High Schools.

While one can appreciate the concern for the safety of the youngsters who participate in the event, the schools and/or counties that are complying with the national standards should not be penalized because every other school cannot or will not comply.

It should be noted that there are still steps to be taken before these plans become a reality. All issues must first be approved by a majority vote of the state superintendents, then by the state Board of Education.

But the fact the MPSSAA is indeed doing what is best for the state's high school athletes is a victory in itself.




Mark Keller is sports editor for The Morning Herald. You can reach him at 301-733-5131, extension 2332, or by e-mail at keller@herald-mail.com.

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