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Coaches aren't neutral about neutral playoff sites

March 20, 2004|By TIM KOELBLE

Editor's note: This is the second story in a three-part series about the open playoff system used by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association for most sports.

There are varying opinions among basketball coaches in Washington and Frederick counties on how the Maryland scholastic postseason tournaments should be conducted.

Few coaches in the state of Maryland oppose the open format adopted in 1996, in which all schools qualify for the postseason regardless of record. The previous system was based on a power rating system and only six per region qualified.

Many coaches polled by The Herald-Mail were in favor of all regional games being played on a neutral floor instead of awarding home games to teams. Others showed an interest in the home-away setup for the first two rounds and a neutral floor for the regionals.

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Either way, a neutral court setting would alleviate any worry about who has how many home games in the tournament.

Statewide, 13 No. 1 seeds out of 32 were on the road for a regional championship game. Some 1A games were played, by prior arrangement, at a neutral site approved by the MPSSAA.

"Before this year, we were a seeded team for two years and we were worse off then than we were this year not seeded," said Brunswick girls coach Bill Martin.

A full regional tournament conducted on a neutral court would require all teams to be seeded similar to the NCAA bracket and placed on a bracket that would minimize the number of opening-round byes.

There is no shortage of possibilities for neutral-court games in this part of the state, including community colleges in Hagerstown, Cumberland and Frederick.

Still, there are those who favor a combination of sites.

"If we had a neutral floor for the entire tournament then all teams need to be seeded," said North Hagerstown boys coach Tim McNamee. "If we had the home-away, then the No. 1 team should be at home."

The top four teams in each region are seeded, based on regular-season record minus holiday tournament games, and placed onto a 16-line bracket.

The remaining teams in the region are dropped into a lottery machine and drawn out at random. The first team out gets the fifth seed, the next team gets the sixth seed and so on until all teams are on the bracket. Any unfilled spots on the bracket become first-round byes.

In the first round, the higher seed is the home team, even if it has a bye. After that, it can become complicated - and that's where the system breaks down, as far as the coaches are concerned.

The bracket on this page shows how this year's Class 2A West boys tournament progressed from the seeding to the region final.

In the top half of the bracket, South Hagerstown, South Carroll, Middletown and Winters Mill all had first-round byes, with the Rebels and Knights getting quarterfinal home games because of their higher seeds.

South and Middletown each won their games to set up a regional semifinal. Since South was the higher seed and both teams had had two home games, the Rebels again played at home as the higher seed.

In the bottom half of the bracket, No. 3 Walkersville made it to the regional final but the applecart was upset when No. 10 Liberty beat North Hagerstown, putting Walkersville on the road to Liberty, which was required to have the home game under this system.

With Walkersville having been on the road, the Lions got the home game against South for the regional championship.

"The top seed of a matchup should have the advantage all the way through if this is the process in place," South Hagerstown boys coach Bob Starkey said. "Otherwise we need to at least have the regionals at a neutral site or the entire tournament."

Some coaches have mentioned breaking the regions into smaller sections, or subregions, similar to those used in West Virginia.

For example, Class 1A West, which has 13 schools, would have one sectional consisting of Hancock, Allegany, Southern, Northern, Beall and Westmar; the other section would have Boonsboro, Brunswick, Catoctin, Clear Spring, Smithsburg, Williamsport and Poolesville.

Like Maryland, West Virginia also runs an open tournament. In Pennsylvania, a team must achieve a power rating point total (based on wins) that will get them into the 16-team bracket.

In Ohio, which is also an open tournament, all sectional-districts are seeded and played on neutral floors. There are no power point ratings and coaches vote on top-four seedings with all schools having their own choice of line bracket placement in a predetermined order.

Is a No. 1 seed likely win a state title?

Of the 16 boys No. 1 regional seeds, nine were regional champions and five of them won away from home. Of the nine regional champions that made it to College Park, Friendly was the only No. 1 seed - in Class 2A - to win a state title.

Of the 16 girls No. 1 regional seeds, 11 were regional champions and seven won away from home. All four state titles were won by No. 1 seeds.

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