AUGUSTA, Maine — Two years into its existence, Maine’s Class AA basketball tournament is undergoing changes.
In what is viewed as a compromise to accommodate geographic realities among participants in the state’s large-school division, the Maine Principals’ Association basketball committee voted unanimously Friday to approve a two-year plan that will retain two Class AA regions but stage all semifinals and regional championship games at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
The plan moves the North regional semifinals and finals from the Augusta Civic Center to Portland and also calls for all Class AA quarterfinals to be held on the home courts of the higher-seeded teams rather than at the tournament venue.
That latter shift was in part a concession to the geographic quandary faced by Bangor High School, by far the northernmost of the 17 Class AA basketball programs.
Under the approved format, Bangor and the other Class AA schools will have the opportunity to play quarterfinal games at home, if they earn that right through their regular-season play, rather than having to travel south for the entire postseason.
“I think the 17 schools have been cognizant of Bangor’s dilemma in being far from the tournament sites,” said Cheverus of Portland athletic administrator Gary Hoyt. “We think the quarterfinals being played at the sites of the higher seeds gives Bangor an opportunity to host one or possibly two home tournament games, which is good.
“It also probably will be reflected in the regular-season schedule, which will allow Bangor to schedule more games regionally and not travel, and it probably will allow for more crossing over in the south between AA and Class A schools.”
The Class AA state championship games will be held at one site, one that was not determined in the plan, depending in part on the availability of venues.
“I think a lot of credit needs to go to [athletic administrator] Steve Vanidestine and Bangor High School for being willing to make some compromises,” said Jason Fuller, athletic administrator of Lewiston High School.
Lewiston, along with Bangor, Edward Little of Auburn and Oxford Hills of South Paris, are the lone Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference members of a Class AA otherwise consisting of schools from the Southwestern Maine Activities Association based in Cumberland and York counties.
“They suggested some ideas and we worked together to come up with this solution,” Fuller said. “It’s a credit to them to be willing to say we’ll go down to Portland for those semis and regionals, and they wanted something in return and that’s the opportunity to host the quarters. We agreed and understood their issues of travel, and I think this is a fair compromise.”
Another change to the Class AA postseason format will qualify eight schools or the top two-thirds of competing teams, whichever is greater, for tournament play in each region.
That means all eight schools in Class AA North and South boys and Class AA North girls will advance to regional quarterfinals while eight of the nine Class AA South girls schools will qualify for postseason play.
Previously the top six teams in Class AA North and South moved on to the tournament with the top two seeds in each region drawing a quarterfinal bye.
The move to eight-team regionals, drawing off a precedent established in field hockey, was made in great part to alleviate the considerable time off between the end of the regular season and the first tournament game for the teams earning byes.
The proposal approved by the MPA basketball committee was crafted by representatives of the Class AA schools, who got together in mid-March in the wake of low attendance at each of its first two tournaments — particularly the Class AA North event at the Augusta Civic Center.
“We wanted to hear from every school in Class AA and what their experiences were, what the positives were and what the negatives were to be able to create a pathway moving forward that would enhance the tournament experience for all the schools and their fan bases,” said Hoyt.
Representatives of 15 of the 17 Class AA schools met in Augusta on March 16 with a 16th school providing written input, and a subcommittee of that group met the following week to develop the proposal.
Under next year’s Class AA tournament schedule, regional quarterfinals will be held Feb. 12-13, followed by semifinals Feb. 16-17 and championship games Feb. 23-24.
The state finals will be played on the weekend of March 2-3.
“I just think the biggest thing is improving the tournament atmosphere, that was our No. 1 goal,” said Fuller. “We’ve got to make sure when kids go to the tournament it’s an experience they’ll always remember.
“Obviously the last two years have not had the greatest tournament atmosphere and this moves us in the right direction toward getting to that.”