, Muskogee, OK


February 1, 2013

COLUMN: Grassy knoll theory haunts hoops poll process

Doyle Rowland doesn’t hide behind his words — an attribute which in my profession, is respected — say what you think, say what you want, but don’t come back 30 minutes later saying “Can I have that off the record?”

I’ve been in this business long enough to know that the heat of battle brews some stormy mind-sets, especially in the moments immediately following a game. Rowland and other high school coaches have to ask for the NCAA-mandated cool-down session. They’re not entitled to it legally, though, and when you’re hustling to cover two games with a 15-minute break in between games like yours truly, you’re glad they’ll take a few moments before heading in to talk with their teams, which for many around here take half the night to get through.

Tuesday night, I was waiting on Rowland to maybe plead for a retraction. It didn’t come.

Good for him, again.

His Lady Roughers outfit in the midst of a very impressive season is sitting third in the latest Class 6A coaches poll. To Rowland, that’s not good enough. Bixby, a team his squad beat two weeks ago, is second. If that holds through Friday’s games which have Muskogee at home against Broken Arrow and Bixby hosting Union, well, the Lady Spartans will be the top seed from the east side and the Lady Roughers will be second.

Bixby is 15-3, Muskogee 15-2. Muskogee rose three spots last week, Bixby stayed put and probably saved themselves from the drop by defeating Bartlesville, a team that hadn’t lost in what most would call a weak schedule. The Lady Roughers knocked off Southmoore in the John Nobles Tournament finals in Moore.

“We don’t have any love on the other side of the Arkansas River and don’t believe you can think otherwise because it’s the buddy-buddy system over there,” Rowland chirped after a blowout win over Sand Springs on Tuesday.

And he probably didn’t do anything to enhance that with his grassy knoll theory.

But why should he?

Why should anyone?

What’s wrong with the teams doing the talking on the floor?

Because, it seems, the coaches and OSSAA don’t want to give up their power — more the coaches, I suspect, since the rankings determine everything. It’s a power they haven’t had too long — this used to be ranked by state media, and this media doesn’t want it back. I have enough problems sifting through the politics of an All-Phoenix team that involves both us and you guys in the decision process.

As one area coach told me, “the current process is a whole lot better than it was because by simply voting, you avoid a 20-point penalty, then if someone wants to slight you, they throw out your highest vote and lowest vote.

“But in Doyle’s case, when it’s all done, he’s not having to travel with the boys. That’s a flaw that everyone 4A and below has.”

In other words, after the top eight teams are spread across the state and care is taken not to overload one area with top 20 teams, the district pairings end up pitting the same schools boys and girls against each other. Yet, the boys and the girls are never ranked in the same order, so someone risks the shaft.

Case in point: Fort Gibson’s boys got a ranking advantage when they were pitted in districts against Wagoner. The Fort Gibson girls weren’t as highly ranked that year and Wagoner’s girls happened to have one of their best teams. Wagoner lost that game but won six straight to make it to the state tournament. In a perfect system, Wagoner’s girls would have had an easier matchup to start with.

Here’s what would end the debate: Setting districts like the OSSAA does in football, soccer, 6A and 5A fastpitch and 6A and 5A baseball. If the district requires too much travel, zone them. Then open the playoffs with a zone tournament, awarded to a facility within that zone. In a four-team zone, the top seed gets the fourth, and second gets third. Boys and girls travel to the same location, so the scattering argument doesn’t fly.

Move two out of that zone into district, then from there, two each to area. Only difference is, you’re eliminating a regional — actually, you’re just renaming it a district, with the two-team districts giving way to a four-team zone. Heck, call the zones districts and the districts regionals if you want.

At the 5A and 6A level, the current format sends four teams to a playoff-opening regional — basically what we’re talking about now. In this sales pitch, the four teams in each regional are pre-set as “district/zones” where four teams play each other home and home, and then you play the cross-over games with the other four — again, in this example, using the current football districts of four eight-team groupings.

You accomplish there what you have in these meaningless “conferences” where at times, most coaches when asked can’t give you their conference record. Because it means nothing to begin with.

And apparently, in some circles, voting participation in the current process is irregular, even if it does penalize your team. If it does, it probably means that you’re team isn’t very good to begin with.

That, and the buddy-buddy system or even the perception of one, creates the problem.

Buddy-buddy systems in basketball should be two-on-one fast breaks, not voting collusion to get seeds. And a coaches influence should be on perfecting those breaks, not through a ballot.

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