I used to call it the annual “S’no fun” story, based on a headline in another newspaper many years ago. We’ve written some version of this story many times ourselves. I’m sure you recognize the theme:
It’s early April and the weather is crappy. High school fields are unplayable. Teams are practicing in the gym. Schedules have been blown to bits. Athletic directors are scrambling to find available fields. How will we ever play all these games!
We didn’t do that story this year. Because it’s not news if it happens all the time. And this is happening ... every ... single ... year.
The sun came out this week and high school teams are out playing games, but teams now have less than a month to squeeze in the bulk of their seasons. Seeds for the baseball and softball Section II tournaments will be drawn up on May 17.
The state public high school athletic association has even waived its “seven-day rule,” permitting teams to practice and/or play more than six days in a row (which raises the question, if it wasn’t OK to have kids playing every day of the week before, why is it OK now?).
We need to get used to the idea that we’re not going to start the spring high school season on April 1 and play a normal schedule through to sectionals. It’s time to rethink how spring season is scheduled.
John Moriello, who writes a well-respected blog for the New York State Sportswriters Association, has suggested ditching state baseball tournament. Instead, finish the season with sectionals in June.
As shocking as the idea sounds, I think it has merit. The vast majority of high school softball and baseball players aren’t going to the state tournament, or even close to it. Just as the weather warms up, they’re turning in their uniforms.
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It won’t happen. I can’t envision state leaders pushing it and I don’t think the public would accept it. The lure of winning a state title is too much a part of our culture.
Short of that, I have two suggestions.
1. State-level play for baseball and softball used to be completed in a single week. Regionals were held in the middle of the week and the final four was on the weekend. Going back to that model buys you an extra week.
This is not an ideal solution, especially for baseball, with the pitch count rule. But it doesn’t make sense to have the 95 percent of teams who don’t make it to states hurrying up so that the 5 percent can have it just right.
2. No more than eight teams in each class for sectionals. Maybe even start in semifinals. Seeding committees will have to make the tough calls about who gets in and who doesn’t. If you don’t trust them, go win your league title and take the guesswork out of it.
With those changes, you can push sectionals back to the end of May. At least you’ve got a fighting chance of a six-week season beginning around the second week of April. The average athlete gets a greater chunk of the good weather without playing five games a week.
Or, try for an April 1 start but go easy on the scheduling for the first three weeks. You’ll have more open dates on the calendar and not quite as much of a logjam near the end.
But for gosh sake, do something. The weather won’t be any better next year.