MPSSAA needs to plant seeds to rid tourneys of open draws

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

The Kickoff

November 14, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Items too small to make a full column:

Winning a state championship is a remarkable achievement, and any school fortunate enough to capture one in any sport should hang the banner in a place of prominence with all the requisite pride.

But it's high time that the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association revamps its regional tournament format beyond what it currently employs so that those banners and trophies can have their full value.

At present, only the football tournament is fully seeded, with the top four teams in each of the four regions in each of the four classes receiving bids based on a point system. In every other sport, each school is invited to play for a title, with the top four teams in the region seeded and the rest of the schools placed into an open draw.

That format might seem harmless on its face, but it yields enough anomalies that the entire field should be seeded. Take the Class 3A East boys soccer draw, where No. 3 seed Mount Hebron got a first-round match against a River Hill team that was assigned the 14th seed - the bottom school in the draw - despite a 7-1-4 mark coming into the game.

As it turned out, Mount Hebron won that match and advanced all the way to this week's state championship against North Carroll, but the point is that the Vikings shouldn't have had to play such a good team right off the bat.

The theory for not seeding below four was to discourage schools from loading up on bad teams on their schedules to try to get higher seeds, and that's admirable. In the process, however, a computer could help pave the way for a bad team or an underachieving regular-season team to ride a fluke and a postseason hot streak to a state tournament run.

Perhaps a rotating panel of three to five athletic directors could serve as a seeding panel in each region, with seeding appeals going to the committee that runs each tournament. Almost anything would be better than the game of chance we have now.

Geography 101

By the way, the boys soccer semifinals had three Baltimore-area schools (Mount Hebron, Towson and North Carroll) in the 3A pairings and two Washington- area schools (Walter Johnson and Bowie) in the 4A final four.

Once that became clear, wouldn't it have made more sense to have the Baltimore schools go to Broadneck, rather than wend their way through 90 minutes of Washington-area traffic, and have the 4A games played at North Point, in Charles County, rather than what happened, in the reverse?

Baltimore vs. D.C.

Tucked in on the schedule of high school games to air on ESPNU this basketball season is a doubleheader pitting two of the Baltimore area's top private schools against two from the Washington area.

Mount St. Joseph, which ran through last year's regular season unbeaten, will meet St. John's of Washington in one game Jan. 27, and DeMatha, the school that beat Mount St. Joe in the Alhambra tournament last March, will face Towson Catholic in the other game. No site for the games has been determined.

And don't forget Philly

Our friends at The Philadelphia Inquirer report that a collection of Washington-area basketball players, feeling stung by a declaration of Philadelphia as the top area in the country for high school basketball by Sports Illustrated, invited the cheese-steakers to Oxon Hill High for a challenge a couple of weeks ago, calling it the "Philly vs. Maryland Shootout."

Well, far be it for us to remind Washingtonians that Baltimore is a part of Maryland and that the high school hoops here are pretty good. Perhaps, in the future, some entrepreneur might want to organize a little round-robin roundball festival, pitting a collection of players from, say, Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York against each other in three games, so that each city could meet the other and settle the issue of which Mid-Atlantic city has the best high school basketball.

Sticker shock

Finally, if you needed a frightening vision of the mutually assured destruction path down which high school sports could be headed, you only had to watch yesterday's Outside the Lines on ESPN.

The lead story was of the Bentonville, Ark., high school team, which recently received a $10 million complex that includes a new stadium with a state-of-the-art scoreboard, an indoor practice facility and a dazzling locker room. The facilities were so good that the Southern California team practiced there before it met Arkansas in September.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the story is that the facility was partially financed by stocks provided by Wal-Mart, whose corporate headquarters are located in the town, raising questions about how much private industry should be involved.

If you were a coach for a neighboring school or for another school in the district, how on Earth would you compete against that kind of largesse?

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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