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MPSSAA still has no clue how to hold playoffs

March 08, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

Ever notice how time gets sponsored nowadays?

You know, we have National Dairy Month and Frozen Food Month.

Then we have Secretary's Week.

Routinely, cities proclaim days for big events. For example, Hagerstown had Willie Mays Day last August.

Well, it's time to realize that March is unofficially named Clich Month in the state of Maryland.

Let's try a few.

Don't rock the boat.

Keep a stiff upper lip.

Take one for the team.

Stay with the program.

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And now my personal favorite ... (drum roll) We can't seed teams.

Those overused gems all fit together in Maryland, especially the one about team seeding. Once again, March Madness has its own unique and multiple meaning when it comes to the state's high school basketball tournament.

Any craziness is reserved for anyone trying to figure out the logic. Madness is the degree of anger most coaches and fans have after the pairings are announced.

Once again, it's only crying wolf. Maryland's state athletic association (the MPSSAA) turned its tournament into a combination of Solitaire and Go Fish. The top four teams are seeded while the rest are selected like a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey - a game of chance, complete with blindfold.

In the West Region alone, the carefully planned mayhem - combined with a random snowstorm of 23 inches in Garrett County - turned the entire tournament into turmoil.

This might be like throwing the baby out with the bath water, but let's review.

First, the West Region was divided into two sections with the top two teams in each earning seeds.

After that, the other five teams were seeded by virtue of numbers drawn by a claw machine at the Frederick County Fairgrounds.

How else would teams like South Hagerstown's girls and Clear Spring's girls and boys - the three of which combined for fewer wins than the number of hairs on Mr. Clean's head - get home games? Clear Spring's girls had a higher seed than Smithsburg, which won more games.

This might be just yelling into the dark, but you have to wonder why any team would play for a winning record if a losing team can earn a better seed just because a numbered ping-pong ball says so.

It isn't rocket science to see how painfully obvious the tournament is nothing more than a glorified fund-raiser for the MPSSAA.

Despite bad weather and school closings, the schedule remained etched in stone. The plan was to be finished by Saturday, forcing teams like Hancock and North Hagerstown to play back-to-back games just to get on schedule.

The goal is to play the region title games on the weekend, when the biggest crowds can attend. Gate receipts, which all go to the MPSSAA, are more important than making the tournament a memorable experience for players and fans.

At the risk of banging my head against the wall, talking out of turn and sticking out like a sore thumb, let's throw out a proposal: Seed everyone and play at neutral sites.

This shouldn't be as shocking as taking a cold shower.

Seeding could be as simple as just giving league champions and top records by win-loss percentage the top seeds. Use records against regional opponents as a tiebreaker.

The argument there is as old as the hills. It's often said that everyone doesn't play everyone else. That doesn't seem to bother other events, like the NCAA Tournament and the NFL playoffs, from going off without a hitch.

If the common-opponents rule comes in, it might force some new rivalries just with the state playoffs in mind. If teams choose to play weak schedules to get a high seed, they will usually be exposed as pretenders quickly.

Neutral sites shouldn't be that baffling either. On the surface, try to find a place that is centrally located and eliminates most homecourt advantages.

On the 2A West level, especially since Maryland's junior college system won't get involved, somewhere like Brunswick High, for example, might be perfect. It's a new facility at a Class 1A school that no 2A team plays at more than twice during the regular season.

The 1A site would be a little more difficult because the region resembles urban sprawl. That makes truly neutral sites tougher to find, outside of say Allegany College. But how about the West Section plays at a Cumberland school and the East Section plays at North Hagerstown, with the championship game in Hancock?

The schedule should be set up so the teams traveling the farthest play first so they can get home at a decent hour. All three games of section play could be played in one night - 4, 6 and 8 p.m., since the tournaments usually start on weekends.

Since the ticket receipts already go to the MPSSAA, each school can contribute, run and divide concession profits equally.

This might not be as right as rain, but after spending time in four states - Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland - the latter has the worst planning of tournaments.

Out of the four state athletic organizations, the MPSSAA is the only one that doesn't seem to communicate with its member schools. Ohio's, West Virginia's and Pennsylvania's high school athletic leaders go to lengths to make sure games are played on neutral courts to give every team an equal chance to win and every fan equal access to attend. West Virginia and Ohio also allow every school to play in the state tournament.

It doesn't take a genius to see it could be done if someone wanted to do the work. The drama of basketball tournaments is one of the sporting highlights of the year.

It's a shame when bureaucratic red tape binds up the process just for the good of a chosen few.

And for that reason, classify this column as an opportunity to tilt at windmills.




Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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