Geoff Smith | From the Baseline: MIAA must not forget about 'small' sports in new tournament proposal
Editor's note: This story has been updated.
Over the last several days, phones at The Eagle offices have been ringing and buzzing about the MIAA's proposed statewide playoff format.There's still plenty to be discussed about the possible changes to the team tournament formats.
But before we get much further than that, I'm curious about what's going to happen to individual/hybrid sports, most notably track and field.
Why? Because, as it stands, the divisional alignments for track make no sense. But, as evidenced by the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association-MIAA rift last spring that threatened to blow up the current postseason format in the sport, the MIAA seems flippant about addressing core issues in the track community.
I say the alignments make no sense, because there are only two divisions in the central and western parts of the state. There are four in the eastern part of the state.
Remember what the Tournament Management Committee said this week? The name of the game is fairness and parity.
It better extend beyond team sports.
The crux, though, is that track is reportedly not a revenue-generating sport in the state.
There's a need for more divisions, but the MIAA already doesn't want to pay for the track. Or, rather, the MIAA wants to keep all of the gate revenues, and expect schools to get nothing out of it.
"When a school hosts a meet, they get nothing out of it," MSTCA executive director Frank Mooney told The Boston Herald in a story on May 2, 2019. "In basketball, they get half the gate and the game lasts an hour-and-a-half. Most of our meets go five hours. We'd like for something to go to the school which is hosting."
The Central/West meets are held at colleges currently, so the gate fee issue isn't as big of a sticking point out here. But, will Central/West meets exist anymore? What replaces the sectional? And is the MIAA willing to add divisions to a sport that it thinks isn't profitable?
Also, what about wrestling? The current format, to me, seems to work. There's a defined path to being a true, state champion. But if divisions are increased and team sports are moving away from sectionals, does that mean wrestlers will lose a tournament meet? Is there potential for a state duals tournament to happen? Could a duals tournament replace an individual one?
At the Taconic Invitational yesterday, wrestling coaches I spoke with indicated that the individual sport committee is already thinking about these issues. When I spoke with Wahconah Athletic Director Jared Shannon, who also serves on the TMC, he said that individual/hybrid sports will have their tournaments reviewed at committee level.
Golf is another example. It would seem that the current format works. But if we are transitioning away from sectional tournaments in team sports, shouldn't the same apply to the "hybrid" sports?
It sure would seem odd if the Hoosac Valley golf team, for example, won a Western Mass. title in 2022, while the Hoosac girls basketball team could only make a state tournament appearance.
There will be — rightly — a lot of attention paid to how team sports are affected by the statewide tournament proposal, but let's not forget everyone else who plays a sport in the state.
If you want to make things fair for athletes, you can't exclude some just because they aren't on your radar every day.
Quick, get your calendar out. I have a date for you to circle: Saturday, Feb. 15. Your location that day should be Taconic High School. The reason you are there? To watch Berkshire County wrestlers show out at the Western Mass. D-III meet.
On Saturday, the Taconic Invitational served as a preview of sorts for Western Mass. Bigger, in fact, according to Taconic coach Jeremy Tetreault, because of the presence of teams like Minnechaug and Wayland.
While the number of teams in Berkshire County has dwindled over the last decade, the quality of individual talent hasn't. On Feb. 15, you have a good shot to see as many as 11 individual champions from the Berkshires, and that's not including those who could wrestle above their seed and force their way into the championship round. On Saturday, the Berkshires were represented in seven championship matches, and several others finished in third or fourth.
One potential highlight for that day? Look at the 195-pound bracket. Taconic's Shawn O'Shea and Monument Mountain's Caden O'Rourke faced off in a tense dual during the week, and O'Rourke took home the Taconic Invitational title, while O'Shea was away for the weekend. Assuming both are in the field come February, that could be an absolute thrill-ride to watch.
It's officially HoopHall Classic week in Western Massachusetts, one of my personal favorite weekends on the sports calendar.
Starting on Thursday and continuing through next Monday, Springfield College will host the premier basketball teams from Western Mass., and across the country for its annual showcase.
Western Mass. high school teams get things started on the first two days. The Taconic boys square off against Chicopee on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to begin the action for county programs.
Friday will feature a triple-header of local girls teams. Taconic starts against West Springfield at 4 p.m., Hoosac Valley takes on Millbury at 5:30, and Wahconah plays Longmeadow at 7.
This weekend is great for local teams, because those who run the Classic know how to treat athletes. This will be as pampered as local hoopers get treated all year. If you're free either day, I highly suggest hopping on the Pike, and checking out the action at the birthplace of basketball.
Geoff Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.
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