We saw the same thing a lot of you saw if you were there…and came away with the same questions that most of you have about respect for competition, the game, officiating, and asking too much of athletes in too short a time.
First, let me say that what I’m about to share with the world, relative to the past weekend and the 101st OHSAA boys state tournament, are questions asked by those kind enough to introduce themselves and express their gratitude for what one called, a good daily read.
A couple, in fact, said, “We don’t always agree with you, but you guys don’t pull any punches.”
To those who appreciate reading from a source that sees the same issues that fans in the stands see, it seems perfectly natural because many of our writers come from that era of journalism where you report what you see…because everyone else will, too.
There is still such a thing as credibility in reporting, despite what you question about network news. And nowhere is it more important than with high school sports where 2,500 people are seeing for themselves, up close. For that reason there are times when you have no choice…but to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
And the elephant in the room is that about which many have already reached out about, via Facebook, Twitter, and personal messages.
First, and importantly, I honestly believe that the OHSAA does the best job of presenting its championship weekends of any of the other states we’ve visited and compared. I’ve been to Indiana. I’ve been to Kentucky. And I’ve seen Iowa, and how they do wrestling and baseball. To their credit, the OHSAA makes it an event to remember, if not less, perhaps, than what it was a decade ago before TV killed the live audience and Covid did its part.
But the elephant in the arena this weekend was how two small Division III and IV schools from suburban Cleveland – Richmond Heights and Lutheran East – can magically attract the kind of athletes that in quality, and number, simply overwhelmed the best of the remaining competition. It was especially questionable in Division IV, where Richmond Heights outscored Crestview by 30 points in the third quarter.
In Division III, Lutheran East had to work to outlast Ottawa-Glandorf, owing to the quality of the OG program – from rural Ohio – and the spectacular fan base that showed up from Putnam County to support the Titans.
Someone called it “the closest thing to the glory days of state tournament basketball since Jon Diebler and Upper Sandusky played Dayton Dunbar.” 18,000 saw that game back on March 24, 2007.
But a lot of people left the arena wondering about respect for the game…and respect for an opponent…when you’re up by 40 with four minutes to play before you send in the subs, which is what happened in the Richmond Heights-Crestview game.
For years people from coaches to fans have questioned why so few fouls are called at the state tournament? Said one associate from southwest Ohio on Sunday, “I see those officials work games all winter long and they call fouls. But they didn’t call them today.”
He was talking about plays like the dunk by Ottawa-Glandorf’s Colin White during the Div. III semi-final game with Africentric, where White was nearly beheaded as he scored…but no foul was called. In no other game during the entire tournament was there a more obvious call, and yet…play on! It’s inconceivable how the fan in the stand can have a more realistic perspective than the officials.
Mark Lammers wrote, via Facebook, “No foul?”
“That’s not respecting the game, or the players,” added Neil, from Hancock County. “Nonsense.”
And nonsense that the OHSAA needs to address, and explain quickly to those who still believe in respect for the game. People watch and can’t believe their eyes; and they don’t understand the explanation of advantage/disadvantage – officiating mumbo-jumbo. When you’re getting kneed in the groin or your head is at risk there’s little question as to who’s being disadvantaged.
Ottawa-Glandorf coach Ty McGlaughlin discreetly questioned another issue of fairness when he mentioned, “We’re accustomed to playing on back-to-back days, but no one’s accustomed to playing back-to-back opponents like Africentric and Lutheran East.”
Personally, I’ve never given much thought to the idea of prep time for something as important as a title game, the way they do it in the NCAA Final Four, where the title game is played on Monday? When you’re 18 you physically recover quickly. And how can high school basketball be that technical for the sake of preparation?
But Ottawa’s players were clearly gassed on Sunday after playing double overtime 24 hours earlier in their win over Africentric.
Pickerington Central was clearly not the same team against Hoban that they were against Centerville in the high wire semi-final 24 hours prior.
Obviously there’s a lot to consider here, because UD’s arena is UD’s arena, and an extra day for the championship game means an extra day’s rent. But if you’re pushing the equality and fairness agenda it’s probably time to take in account matters of athletic probabilities, and how much can you ask?
Overall, I’m proud of the competitive legacy I observed from all the teams, and especially OG, Crestview, Russia, and Berlin Hiland because they clearly played against a different level of basketball. But the times…well, they are a changin’. That’s what we saw. That’s what everybody saw.
And the question from Doug Blankenship last week: “How long do we kick the can down the road?”