It’s hard to relish a game when any semblance of competition is destroyed even before tip-off. So why, except for the fact of money, do we even have them…and call it a tournament?
Newark – With all due respect to the Belmont High School girls basketball team, it seemed obvious after last Monday’s 80-8 playoff blowout loss to Carroll High School that the Lady Bison should have called their campaign quits after an 0-13 regular season.
As should have the Mississinawa Valley Lady Blackhawks (4-18), who were ripped 71-20 by Fort Loramie. And the Ponitz Tech Lady Golden Panthers (3-19), 80-23 losers to Wayne. And the Princeton Lady Vikings (6-14), 91-42 victims of Lakota West.
Unfortunately, each of these teams had to compete in the first round of the OHSAA girls basketball tournament, as did 18 other teams who lost by 40 points or more in their playoff opener. And while those were a few of the most lopsided contests of last week, of the 58 first round games played between Monday and Thursday, 34 were decided by 20 points or more.
Though not as bad as in the girls game, a first round disparity exists in the boys game, too — out of 86 playoff openers, 22 were decided by 25 points or more. Ross was eviscerated 100-31 by Trotwood. West Carrollton got kicked 101-24 by Wayne. Riverview East Academy was embarrassed 85-20 by Purcell Marian.
What can we say about the actual contests themselves? Sometimes the fat lady doesn’t even need to show up. There are some basketball teams that couldn’t find a bucket on a sandy beach who sometimes get the unlucky draw of playing a team with more McDonald’s All-Americans than the Clippers. These games aren’t enjoyable to watch, and as an athlete, they’re not even that enjoyable to play.
But what can be said about the scheduling of the games is another matter, and I’d argue strongly that the OHSAA is doing wrong by student-athletes of both winning and losing schools when they pair the state’s best teams against the state’s worst teams in the first round of the basketball playoffs.
First, they do wrong by the losing team. Chances are that most players who lose by over 40 points in a first round playoff game have stuck through a season of similar chagrins because they like the sport. Still, it doesn’t really leave a good impression about your basketball career when your final game is a big squirt of lemon juice in sixteen previous paper cuts.
Second, they do wrong by the winning team. A superior program can’t improve against an inferior opponent — they can only humiliate them. When a good basketball team doesn’t even need to play defense because their opponents can’t make uncontested layups, the advantage becomes a disadvantage. It doesn’t serve athletes who want to play competitive basketball by facing them against an opponent who is so bad as to be non-competitive, as they lose any real potential to improve.
From where I sit, the only real reason to make these matchups is for school revenue purposes, which I understand is not an entirely self-serving motive. There are school costs to be considered, I’m sure, which an extra few thousand dollars in ticket sales may serve to meet.
But at the end of the day, what is better for the kids? I’m not talking about their egos, since I’ve already noted that most will keep playing out of love for the game or a sense of duty to their teammates or loyalty to their commitment. No, what is better for the kids’ enjoyment, which is the entire spirit behind amateur athletics?
It’s hard to relish a game when any semblance of competition is destroyed even before tip-off. How many times have we seen an overmatched team give up completely before half-time, resigned to just playing out the minutes? The winning team usually becomes bored, too (except for the few bench players who get some rare playing time). So why play if you can’t enjoy it? That’s what a game is supposed to be for, isn’t it?
If the OHSAA really understood the spirit of amateur athletics, I think they would change the first round of the basketball playoffs to reflect that of the football playoffs, where teams are seeded by qualifying merit. Unfortunately, it seems they are more invested in school revenue than helping student athletes enjoy their sport to the best of their ability.
You’ll never be able to prevent blowouts, but you can try to stay true to the nature of high school sports. Basketball simply can’t be a satisfying game when it isn’t competitive. I say the OHSAA should give the kids every opportunity to enjoy themselves by stopping the first round mismatches. After all, you’re only young once — you should have fun while you can, before you have to grow up and worry about money all the time.