Hard times still require answers for athletics

Posted Jan. 30, 2009, at 12:34 a.m.

The Interscholastic Management Committee of the Maine Principals’ Association has acted.

Many people are relieved, for no regular-season games will be pared from high school varsity sports schedules, and the New England championships will remain a goal and reward for some of the very best among the state’s student-athletes.

Some people aren’t happy, seeing a decision to limit teams to five noncountable dates for scrimmages, holiday tournaments and other exhibition games as an infringement on local control, and a 50-percent rule for tournament qualification as overly restrictive.

I’m inclined to believe the system worked — and a reasonable result followed.

A problem was identified, that the state is in economic crisis and nothing — not even high school athletics — are immune from its impact.

Recommendations were made to address the problem, and when some parties couldn’t understand why they were being targeted, they reacted with protest public yet dignified.

And while some are reluctant to believe it, there was considerable public access to the governing body through local school administrators and through the media.

Ultimately the MPA’s reaction was restrained, in part due to public feedback and in part thanks to work already done by the state’s conferences through the insight of their athletic administrators.

Subvarsity schedules are being regionalized. More and more varsity doubleheaders, particularly against faraway foes, are reducing the number of faraway trips. Schedules are being revised so different sports teams from the same school can travel to games on the same bus. No doubt more changes are in the offing.

Perhaps the more important impact of this particular quasi-governmental exercise has been to place in the spotlight the challenge of balancing the heretofore insulated world of interscholastic sports with today’s economic realities.

For the issues that spawned this discussion — fuel price fears and the competition for school subsidy dollars among them — aren’t likely to disappear in any permanent way.

And Maine’s geographic vastness, particularly north of Augusta, makes those challenges even more daunting.

One suggestion is to tinker with the Heal points to make it more inviting for schools from higher classes to play more neighboring schools from lower classes without fear of being penalized in the standings. Such a modification was made during the mid-1970s after several teams with 12 or 13 wins did not qualify for the tournament, with good results.

Another idea is to have subvarsity teams play games just one day a week, but in a round-robin setting to allow for multiple games requiring just one bus ride — much like baseball and softball doubleheaders, only with different opponents.

The same round-robin format could be utilized for noncountable varsity dates, enabling teams to get two or more games in during a single day.

Human nature suggests it often takes a crisis to motivate change, and no doubt there is a crisis. It’s most evident in the workers being displaced from their jobs, and the reluctance of others to spend their money for fear they will be the next on the unemployment line.

And it will trickle down, even to seemingly far removed points such as a school’s athletic budget or the disposable income used to take a family to the basketball tournament.

Better to continue the search for efficiency, because the alternative will be even bigger cuts — and lost opportunities on the field of play.

eclark@bangordailynews.net

990-8045

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