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Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015: Thinking through a pair of ideas floating around

   Leading off today: With the official start of practice a day away, I'm more interested at the moment in throwing out some thoughts about the end of the season for a couple of sports.

   Two conversations -- one in-person involving me, the other virtual between online commentators on -- got the ball rolling on this question: Should the NYSPHSAA consider blowing up the format for some of its championship tournaments?

   Let's start with baseball.

   I drove over to Syracuse last week for the Section 3 football media day, which is a very innovative and useful event that some other sections should emulate. The Section 3 football committee brought coaches and a couple of players from every team to a gathering so that local print and electronic media could get photos and interviews that will go a long way toward helping them piece together 2015 previews and early-season features.

   Before that session, however, Section 3 Executive Director John Rathbun and the NYSPHSAA's Joe Agostinelli met with media to do a bit of a post mortem on the 2014-15 school year and a preview of changes and innovations for 2015-16 that might affect reporters.

   During the roundtable, someone asked if the NYSPHSAA in considering a change in the format for the final weekend of baseball to a two-day event instead of playing semifinals and finals in each class all in one day. The subject comes up every couple of years, and I admittedly have generally tuned it out ... until now. That's because the data suggesting a change may be needed is piling up.

   The baseball format has semifinal games being played at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., followed by championships at 4 p.m. From 2010 through 2014, the winners of the early semifinal went 3-2 in championships every year. This spring, they actually pulled off a sweep of the five title games, making the 10 a.m. winners 20-10 over the past six seasons.

   Is that absolute evidence of an unfair advantage? No, but it should be compelling enough to make people take a closer look and perhaps float the idea of a two- or three-year experiment with a two-day format.

   From a logistics standpoint the change would be insignificant, though admittedly more expensive because of an extra hotel night and meals for some teams and fans. Nevertheless, working out the details would probably be easier than the idea I'll float here for football and possibly other team sports:

   It's time to ponder a substantial change to pairings for quarterfinal matchups in NYSPHSAA tournaments.

   The latest inspiration for the idea -- its roots go back close to a decade now -- comes from a thread on the high school football forum last week pointing out the disparity in the number of Class D teams across New York. Historically, the format has been such that the finals at the Carrier Dome are played in an East vs. West formula. The West consists of Sections 3, 4, 5 and 6, and the other five sections north of New York City comprise the East.

   In classes AA trough C, the number of teams from each side of the state is close enough so as to not raise an eyebrow. In Class D, however, things are pretty far out of whack and showing no signs of getting better. The five East sections will field a combined 14 teams in the smallest classification this fall; Sections 4 and 5 each have more teams that all by themselves. The overall count is 50 West teams and 14 East teams, which goes a long way towards explaining why the West has dominated the state finals over the years.

   So, what's the fix? Well, there is a concept being floated for moving to six classes in the football tournament, and I admit I do not know off the top of my head if that would lead to better balance, though the law of averages says probably not.

   In lieu of that, we should be considering a change in how the Class D quarterfinalists are paired up. Right now, those games consist of Section 5 vs. 6, 3 vs. 4, 1 vs. 9 and 2 vs. the Section 7/10 representative. I would still use Week 10 of the season to make the reps from Sections 7 and 10 face off and get the field down to eight teams. But from there I'd switch up most of the quarterfinals: Sections 5 and 6 would still go head-to-head, but the other matchups would be 1 vs. 2, 4 vs. 9 and 3 vs. the 7/10 winner. One semifinal would come out of the 1-2-4-9 half of the bracket; the other would be from 3-5-6-7-10.

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   More often than not, I think this is going to lead to three of the four semifinalists coming from the four western-most sections. But when more than 75 percent of the eligible teams come from that region and the Western semifinal many years already shapes up as a de facto NYSPHSAA championship game, maybe that is the way to go.

   My focus here is on football, but I also think the concept may seem applicable to other team sports. Even though Sections 8 and 11 participate in the likes of soccer, baseball, etc., the Long Island sections do not have much in the way of Class D teams. Consequently, 92 of the 150 boys basketball teams in the smallest class last winter came from Sections 3, 4 5 or 6.

   Though that's a significant imbalance and I'm kind of making the case for change here, I wouldn't take the case for realignment any further for the moment because of the following factors:

   (1) Basketball absolutely, positively needs to reassess its classification cutoffs before anything else gets done. Enrollment in most districts has been in a steady decline for at least five years (and that's being generous), and we're looking at a situation in which Class AA has too few teams at the moment.

   Last season, the four southern sections (1, 8, 9 and 11) had a 83-62 advantage among the 145 Class AA schools. But once you back out the private schools moved up to AA regardless of BEDS figures, the breakdown becomes a more drastic 82-54. The upstate/downstate balance in Class A is nearly perfect, but that division had 161 teams last winter (158 if you disregard the private schools that were moved up).

   You cannot reasonably go forward with 138/145 (and shrinking) Class AA schools and 158/161 in Class A, so that needs to be fixed before even pondering tweaking brackets. And, of course, re-doing the cutoffs may or may not cut into the geographic gap.

   (2) Most sports other than football blend the eastern and western halves of the state at the quarterfinal level -- for instance, there are some Section 2 vs. 3 and Section 4 vs. 1 or 9 quarterfinals in several sports.

   That in itself is already an equalizer of sorts, and then competitive balance is further enhanced in sports that play a final four weekend format because semifinal pairings get rotated each year so that an East vs. West or North vs. South final is not a sure bet.

   More later: OK, that's enough spitballing for now. I'm watching some English and German soccer -- sorry, futbol -- and working my shift this morning, and I'll be back with a blog tonight emptying the notebook on some news tidbits that have been piling up the past few days.

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