HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - As the high school basketball season comes to an end, and when other media are lamenting why interest in high school sports is down in New Jersey, let’s take a look at some of the problems that are facing high school basketball in New Jersey
Scheduling: Can anyone explain why the state playoff seeds are announced two weeks plus before the end of the regular season? It sucks the air right out of the season down the stretch for many teams, matchups and games. It creates matchups that have no bearing on regular season or post-season matchups. Not to mention deflating teams that were on the bubble of making the cut.
It is great to think that every player, every game is 100 percent pumped, focused on winning, giving everything they have to succeed. The reality is that is an unrealistic expectation of any team, especially as the season goes on, losses outnumber wins, and mid-winter blues set in. Factor in that there is no post-season glory to even dream of, no matter how slight, and it will drain the passion out of any team.
In a sport where at the college level, the announcement of the post-season tournament teams generates as much interest and debate as the games, why cut the last two weeks of the season’s legs off at the knees.
Not every division title will come down to the stretch. Everyone knows that certain games just won’t matter in the league standings after a certain point in the season. And power points and seedings are not that hard to figure out to extend the season. But attendance in gyms goes down when the game does not have implications for conference championships, state playoff seedings and does not involve a hated rival.
So how about waiting to announce the brackets for post-season until the regular season ends. (by the way, this is an issue in all sports except football).
Playoff Seeding: This one is simple. Can the NJSIAA, after it seeds the teams, ensure that teams from the same division, and who have already played twice in the regular season, don’t play each other in the opening round of the playoffs? Move a team up or down a spot and take away a repeat matchup. With 16 teams making the playoffs, it should not be that hard to avoid repeat matchups.
Part of the fun of the state playoffs is that schools play teams they normally don’t see. It is also part of the challenge, as a particular part of the state may be up or down in a particular season. Why play a regular season, to only repeat the matchups in the state playoffs?
If a particular league has teams advance and teams have to meet, so be it. But there is no reason for the opening round game between the four and 13 seeds be a rematch of two regular seasons games. We have seen the result before, and will probably get the same result again.
Officiating: No, let’s not discuss the ref missed this call, or that call. You will never make anyone happy with officials' calls. There is nothing anyone on the planet can do to fix that. Besides, there is a saying among officials that if both crowds hate you, you must be doing a fair job calling the game.
The problem with officials that is indisputable is optics. Overweight officials. Officiating crews that are too old to be doing games. Whether the game that they call is a good or a bad one, any missed call (and in every game there are missed calls) the fans can easily point to an officials conditioning and/or age as a evidence as the call was wrong in their eyes.
In some cases they are right, there are officials young and in shape who can’t seen to get a call right, who feel the need to control the game, to make their mark on the game. That is a whole separate issue.
But it is hard to feel confident in an officiating crew when you can see the person is not in proper physical condition. Each close call they make gets a grumble from the crowd that the referee was not in proper position to see the call, because they could not get there. No official should be making calls from half-court because they can’t get up and down the court. The officials get paid to call the game, and to be in physical condition.
When they are not, the student-athletes, the only ones involved in the contest not getting paid, are getting short-changed.
If the cumulative age of the officiating crew is approaching the cumulative age of all 10 high school players on the court, there is a problem with optics.
Now, given the shortage of officials that we always here about, we can't just discard older officials with an arbitrary retirement age. And I have seen officials do games this season who I saw working Division III college games in the 1980's, and they are doing a better job today than they did then. But the people who assign these officials need to match up the older officials with the younger ones.
Maybe the older officials can provide wisdom and mentoring to the younger guys. Maybe the younger guys can use their (hopefully) better physical condition to cover up some of the effects of time. Most officials are good people, trying to do their best, but to deny the impact of time and conditioning is like trying to argue the sun comes up in the west.
Rule Changes: I will stay out of the debate as to how a jump stop cannot be traveling, but instead plead with the NJSIAA to make a point of emphasis one rule, and change another.
The art of blocking out has been eliminated, as over the back is never called, and when it is, it is the wrong call. (When one player winds up on the ground five feet from where the play started, it is a push, not over the back.)
The second is to change the rule to prohibit coaches from directly calling a timeout from the sidelines. Too many times players hit the floor for a loose ball and the whistle is blown before either team has possession. Timeout, possession stays the same. (Really no one had the ball when the whistle blew.)
Defense pins a guy in the corner, about the be stripped of the ball,when the coach screams “timeout” saving possession. Players on the court should be the only ones who call timeout.
I don’t blame coaches for doing it, it is still legal, but should not be.
Just my nickel's worth.
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