From the top: There's no value in dodging better teams


January 22, 1993|By PAT O'MALLEY

In the latest edition of Scout, the newsletter of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, Ned Sparks, the executive secretary of the organization, has written an excellent column on "playoff paranoia."

Sparks writes the "Executive's Corner" for Scout, and I believe the guy missed his calling. He should get into writing, because his latest contribution is an NBA three-point shot.

What he has to say about the way some teams dodge the good teams in hopes of scheduling themselves into the playoffs is right on target.

"Scheduling your way into the last playoff spot indicates there is no true commitment for success beyond mediocrity," wrote Sparks.

That type of coach would prefer beating a weak team badly rather than taking a chance and gaining experience against a better team.

Sparks also is referring to the coaches who don't play to win, but rather are committed to playing not to lose.

He referred to the new classifications and regional alignments, saying, "It is almost comical to observe the level of uneasiness that begins to settle over many people."

Sparks describes the hysteria, as "the biannual waste of time and energy called playoff paranoia."

His reference is to the good number of coaches and schools who don't want to play the best schedule.

"It appears that if some could, they would rather schedule their way into the playoffs than actually beat good teams," Sparks wrote.

In talking about winning state championships, Sparks provides a few interesting statistics.

When the state football playoffs first began only four teams qualified and as a result, some very good teams were left out because they played tough schedules and were in highly competitive regions.

In a brilliant move seven years ago to make the football playoffs more equitable, the MPSSAA expanded to eight teams per classification by tacking on an extra week of play. Since that move, there have been few complaints of deserving teams' being left out.

"Since the expansion, no team in any sport that was capable of challenging for a state championship failed to make the playoffs," wrote Sparks.

Sparks also pointed out that 42 percent of the teams in last year's regional basketball playoffs had losing records and two 0-20 teams flipped a coin for a sixth seed.

Such will not happen this boys basketball season in Class 4A Region IV, where Anne Arundel's nine larger county schools reside with Edmondson and Patterson of Baltimore and Queen Anne's of the Eastern Shore.

There is no way that the sixth seed in this competitive region will have a losing record, as has happened in some other years.

Five of the teams in 4A Region IV are ranked in this week's Baltimore Sun Top 20: No. 4 Annapolis (8-2), No. 11 Edmondson (7-5), No. 14 Broadneck (8-3), No. 18 Meade (10-1) and No. 19 Glen Burnie (9-2).

Throw in "no respect" Arundel (9-3) and two other teams on the bubble in Chesapeake (5-6) and defending Region IV champion Old Mill (3-5), and you have a pretty tough region.

It's quite obvious to Old Mill coach Paul Bunting that if his team is to get a shot at defending its title, it will have to finish with a winning record.

"We have to put it together if we hope to do what we did last year," said Bunting after his Patriots were trounced by Annapolis, 77-44, Tuesday.

None of those eight 4A teams will back in because they have the competitively correct philosophy Sparks supports.

"Good teams beat their opponents and qualify for the playoffs," wrote Sparks. "Mediocre teams sometimes make it and sometimes don't."

It really is an injustice to athletes for a coach to schedule cupcakes and pad a record to make the playoffs and then be dealt the big jolt -- discovering that they don't belong at the party.

"All the schedule jockeying in the world won't help. There is no such thing as ducking opponents in the playoffs," wrote Sparks.

Those who scheme for that sixth seed in basketball usually end up getting embarrassed the first game if they do make it. The No. 6 seed is rewarded with a first-round game against the No. 3 seed, and if they survive, they get the No. 2 seed in the region semis.

The top two seeds draw first-round byes, and if there is anything I disagree about with Sparks it's the six-team format for basketball. When the region winners advance to the state tournament, it's four teams vying for the grand prize, not six.

The best way to eliminate many of the schemers would be to qualify only four teams in each region (as in baseball) with no byes. Of course, that would mean two fewer games in each regional, which means less revenue.

Basketball and football are easily the state's top sources of revenue in high school sports, and I don't think there is any question that six teams qualify in basketball to rake in the extra bucks.

I commend Sparks for daring to tell it like it is. Too many in high positions wouldn't think about taking such a posture.

Sparks is so well respected throughout this state because he lives what he preaches:

"Put your best team on the field, play to win; and if you're good enough, you will get your ticket to the show."

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