Playoff gospel - Go play it like the mountains

November 28, 2004|by MARK KELLER

I'm spinning in circles, flip-flopping like a former presidential candidate trying to decide which side of the Maryland high school football playoff fence I'm really on.

And it's all because of what I've seen in Martinsburg, W.Va., the last two weekends.

I've been a firm believer that Maryland should take the same approach as West Virginia in setting their football playoff brackets, seeding the top 16 teams in each class rather than holding regional tournaments.

One reason for playing regionally in the first two rounds in Maryland is to limit the travel distance for the visiting teams, which leads to another reason: A bigger gate for the state.

Last week's Jefferson-Martinsburg game tested my resolve, however. Upwards of 8,000 fans attended the game between Panhandle rivals, helping me to see why a regional playoff might, in fact, be the right way to go.


But then Friday came and Parkersburg - about five hours to the west of Martinsburg - rolled into town with a convoy of buses, RVs and SUVs carrying enough people (about 2,000) to fill the visitors' bleachers at Cobourn Field.

Any wavering I had experienced went away. This is the way to do a playoff: Seeding the teams 1-16, regardless of region, regardless of the length they have to travel.

If teams and fans are willing to make that kind of drive in West Virginia - on a holiday weekend during hunting season, no less - they could do it in Maryland.

ยท Just when you thought you had heard it all, another athlete opens up his mouth.

Except in this case, it's a coach.

Clemson football coach Tommy Bowden gave this reason for the brawl that broke out at the end of the Clemson-South Carolina game last Saturday, one day after the Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons fight.

"For 24 hours they've watched that basketball fiasco on TV. That's 24 hours a day, every major news program. And that thing was covered, and they've watched it, watched it, watched it."

It's hard to tell if Bowden is blaming the NBA or the television networks ... wait, make that "every major news program."

One thing's for sure: He's not blaming his players, and he's certainly not taking any responsibility himself.

The next time a mess like this occurs (we can hope it won't, but it will), it would be nice for the coach to say, "My players messed up. They should know better than that."

But then add, "But you know, they did see Clemson and South Carolina doing the same thing."

Perhaps then Bowden might think about passing the buck on the blame.

n Coming in a close second to Bowden is Clemson running back Yusef Kelly, who found this bright side to the "Scuffle in South Carolina."

"It's no worse than the Pacers and Pistons last night. They actually got the fans involved. At least we kept it to the football teams," Kelly said.

That, Yusef, would be called a moral victory. And we all know how coaches feel about those.

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at

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