The weekend’s boys state tournament will be interesting for the fact of first-timers and teams that haven’t been there in ages. But will fans who haven’t been there in ages come to see it?
Someone asked Tuesday, “Who do you like in this week’s (boys) state tournament?”
The better question would be…how many teams can you actually name in this week’s boys state tournament?
There’ll be some ‘newbies’, and some teams that haven’t been there in ages.
Cornerstone Christian, for instance, out of Cleveland, and Columbus Wellington School, are two of the Division IV entries. Both are private, and neither have ever been to the Final Four. Both are stocked with dynamic talent, and have instant pedigree having knocked off perennial favorites like Columbus Africentric and Lutheran East (Cleveland).
In Division I Wilmington makes an appearance for the first time since 1927, and get there on the considerable talents of UC recruit Jarron Cumberland, a 6’5″ point guard that looks like he could play tight end for the Marvin Lewis. Lima Senior is there with Michigan recruit Xavier Simpson (30 pts. per game), joined by Westerville South and Garfield Height returns this year with a pair of Division I recruits, Frankie Hughes (Louisville) and Willie Jackson (Missouri)
In Division III Lima Central Catholic and coach Frank Kill returns, along with Roger Bacon, Lynchburg-Clay, and Villa Angela-St. Joseph…three teams of contrasting styles, but all very athletic.
In Division II, the state’s highest scoring team, John Glenn, out of New Concord. There’s not a shot that this team doesn’t like to take; they’re fun to watch. They’re joined by Cincinnati Aiken, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, and first-timer Bay Village.
So, no true basketball fan can make a case for staying at home because of “same ol’, same ol'”.
But it is a concern for OHSAA administrators who stared at last weekend’s empty stands with angst during the girls tournament. Attendance, for the second year in a row, was noticeably down. And fans questioned who were there made no bones about why others from their respective communities in Cleveland, Ironton, and even Columbus itself, had chosen to stay home.
“Too expensive,” said Jody, from Cornerstone. “I know a lot of people didn’t come because the tickets are high, and it’s a risk to come down for just one game if you get beat (in the semis).”
And that very issue is being weighed by OHSAA administrators searching for a way to make the tournament more palatable to the wallet.”
“We’re considering a number of things,” said deputy commissioner Jerry Snodgrass. “Maybe two-game session tickets. But we’re aware that there are people who stay away because of cost.”
They would, perhaps, do well to copy the model from the spring baseball tournament. You pay one price there ($12) and you can stay in Hungtington Park and watch baseball all day. With basketball they empty the arena after each game and ask patrons to buy another ticket.
And, the OHSAA has made it VERY convenient to stay home and watch the games on TV. In lieu of lost ticket revenue, they operate now off the rights sold to Sports Time Ohio and Fox Sports Ohio.
“Why would I drive to Columbus to see Ironton play when I can watch it from the comfort of my home,” said Jim, a friend from Ironton whom I called prior to the tournament.
To the question of calling it a tournament if nobody comes, OHSAA officials expressed optimism for this weekend. First-time teams and teams from rural areas of the state, the Ottawa-Glandorfs and Irontons, usually bring a great crowd. The inner-city monarchs, Dunbar and Aiken, not so much.
And let’s hope they do. The event itself is the same wonderful experience if you haven’t seen it, or if you haven’t missed one for years. Except for……
“It’s not the same as it was when they had it at St. John Arena,” said a patron from Westerville at last year’s tournament. “It’s not as much fun now. And you can’t get in for $8. I think that’s what I paid the last time I actually bought a ticket.”
It’s twice that amount now, and the arena’s half empty. In respect to the history of the event, its legacy, and the changing financial dynamic, what could it hurt to borrow from the well-known motto, “respect the game”, and actually respect the budget of those who would come…if they could?
And what if it worked?