Coaches favor change to Md. state playoff format

March 19, 2004|bu TIM KOELBLE

In 1996, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association implemented a basketball playoff system in which every team, regardless of record, qualified for the postseason.

There have been a few tweaks to the system since it first came to pass, such as the seeding of the top four teams in each region in 2000, but it has stayed essentially the same since its inception.

The system has not been without its critics as coaches, fans and the media have all spoken out about possible faults in the way the playoffs are run.


The open tournament is generally accepted as the way the event should be conducted, but the intricate items - such as seeding and the home-away methods - are not at the top of everyone's list of favorite things.

The Herald-Mail conducted a poll of boys and girls head coaches in Washington and Frederick counties, asking each coach three questions:

  • Do you favor the open tournament format as it is now conducted?

  • Would you be in favor of sub regions as a sectional?

  • Would you be in favor of all game at neutral sites?

The results of the poll (see charts) show that many coaches echo the sentiments of Brunswick girls coach Bill Martin: "The MPSSAA needs to give serious thought to revamping the playoff system."

The problem most cited in discussions with coaches is the method of determining home games.

The current system awards a home game to the team that has had fewer home games in the tournament, with first-round byes counting as home games. If opponents in a given round have played an equal number of home games, the higher seeded team hosts the game.

"If a team has a good season and gets one of the top seeds it should be able to play a home game," said Clear Spring coach Don Harnish, who has one of the most legitimate gripes of anyone around the state.

The Blazers were the third seed in Class 1A West and had a first-round bye, considered a home game. Brunswick, seeded 11th, defeated No. 6 Beall in the first round at Beall, so the Railroaders got a home game against Clear Spring.

After Clear Spring defeated Brunswick, the Blazers looked forward to a home game against No. 2 Westmar, which already had two home games. But that game was moved to a neutral site - Fort Hill High School - because of an arrangement set up in that region in 1999, leaving the Blazers without a home playoff game following their best season in years.

Meanwhile, the Clear Spring girls team, which hasn't won in over two years, has had first-round home games each of the last two seasons.

"The home-away is nonsense," said Frederick boys coach Derek Shackelford.

Ten of the 15 coaches who were in favor of neutral sites said there should be no home court advantage in the tournament.

"If the home court were eliminated and changed to neutral sites it would be a better tournament," said North Hagerstown girls coach Barry Brown.

In addition to the four coaches who were not in favor of neutral sites, four others said they were OK with a neutral floor in the regional pairing following a home-game seeding in the first two rounds.

"The playoff system is an embarrassment to athletics," said South Hagerstown boys coach Bob Starkey. "I've been a scholastic coach in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia and recruited at these tournaments as a college coach, but Maryland's present playoff system is absurd. There aren't any sour grapes with the system, but it needs to be revised."

Despite being seeded No. 1 in 2A West this year, South had to travel to Walkersville for the regional final because it had three home "games" in the tournament to Walkersville's two. Based on seedings alone, without home-away consideration, the game would have been played at South.

Had the region been at a neutral site, none of the home-away seedings would have come into play.

Thomas Johnson boys coach Tim Abercrombie said he thought the seeding process is passable, but didn't think the home-away was fair.

"It certainly was unfair to South Hagerstown. I'm in favor of the open tournament, but on a neutral court," Abercrombie said.

Other opinions vary to degrees.

-- Smithburg girls coach Bill Fowkes said all teams should be seeded and higher seeds should have home-court advantage.

"If there were neutral sites, that would be good for the regionals," Fowkes said.

-- Williamsport girls coach Curtis Graff agreed that all teams should be seeded, but had no objection to home court. Graff also offered the idea of using neutral game officials, a suggestion several other coaches mentioned.

-- Hancock boys coach Jeff Spielman had another twist.

"There should be a reconstruction of the classifications by going to three classes, such as 1A schools being 600 or less in enrollment," Spielman said.

-- TJ girls coach Amy Schmuck would have been thrilled to have played at a neutral site following her experience at Lake Clifton this year.

The Herald-Mail Articles