In a blistering public attack on the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association open playoff format, Severna Park volleyball coach Tim Dunbar said yesterday the new system was "going to end up in a celebration of mediocrity and hurt high school sports in the long run.
"People won't come to see blowouts," he said. "Only parents are going to pay $4 to see a blowout."
Dunbar said the open playoffs, with no seeding of teams, are unfair to the strong teams.
"Nobody wants to take responsibility for the seeding of teams, nobody wants to take the blame, nobody has to make a decision, nobody wants to take a stand and if something goes wrong, just blame it on the random draw," said Dunbar, who guided the Falcons to three consecutive state 4A championships from 1991 to 1993.
Dunbar has proposed that the coaches be allowed to get together at the end of the season in each sport and determine which eight teams should be seeded.
"They let the wrestling and track coaches meet and discuss state seedings," he said. "Aren't we competent enough? Why does ours have to be a random draw? If they say seeding is wrong, why is it right for the wrestling and track coaches? It seems like they have created a double standard."
Ned Sparks, executive secretary of the MPSSAA, denied that wrestling and track coaches get to seed individuals for the state tournament during their meetings.
"It's based on a point system for the wrestlers and times and distances for track," said Sparks.
"If we allowed any kind of seeding for the regionals and state tournament, we would be right back to where we started, where teams were scheduling opponents strictly for points," he said. "I know this [open format] is a radical change. People have to get used to it. One of the premier state high school tournaments in the country [Indiana basketball] does not seed teams, and they even have all classes playing together."
Sparks said there is no way to seed teams without developing a lot of controversy and unfairness.
"If you let the volleyball coaches or basketball coaches or any coaches for their sport do it, they have an interest in it, and a conflict of interest develops," he said. "We had a discussion over it [seedings], and decided not to do it."
Dunbar said the state association does not want to scrap the present format because "they spent two years working on it and are saying we're going to do it.
"Unless coaches organize and protest, nothing will be done about it," he said.
Dunbar said his anger is not sour grapes over what he termed "about the worst draw we could get" in this year's 4A East volleyball regionals.
"I was mad last year when we got a good draw," he said. "The random draw only works one time for one combination of teams.
"People say it will even out in the long run over a period of years. But tell that to Julie Allen and our seniors who won't be around next year and might not get a chance to play past the regional quarterfinals because we're in the same bracket with Northern of Calvert [defending 4A state champs, strong again this year]. Tell that to the Glen Burnie girls who have graduated and had to play against Northern last year in the regional quarterfinals."
Dunbar said that if the 4A East Region teams were seeded based on how they played in the regular season instead of a random draw, Northern would be No. 1, Severna Park No. 2 and Calvert No. 3.
So what happened in the random draw?
Severna Park will have to beat Calvert (first round) and Northern (quarterfinals) just to reach the 4A East Region semifinals.
"The state 4A championship match will be Severna Park vs. Northern," said Allen, who has 278 kills this year.
To which Dunbar added: "Those are the matches you want at the end of the tournament when a lot of people are there to watch you play and you can get good newspaper coverage. We have to play to the media a little because it is a part of the process.
"Right now, with everything going on at the same time [open boys and girls soccer, field hockey and volleyball tournaments along with the end of football season], a lot of teams aren't getting covered."
Football is the only state high school sport that does not have an open tournament this season, and that is because it would take until Christmas to complete it.
Last year, the open tournament format was introduced on a limited basis, with volleyball and boys and girls soccer the first to invite all schools to postseason play regardless of what they did during the regular season.