Weather, lack of competition in some state tournaments put a damper on spring sports
Spring sports. How do you like me now?
Pure Michigan has been pure mayhem for most of the athletic programs as postponements and cancellations have taken place more often than has happened recently in the month of April.
In northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula snow or ice have covered fields for the past 10 days or more forcing teams, even in soccer, to go indoors to practice. Go south of Mount Pleasant and although the snow hasn’t been as widespread rain and cold temperatures have also affected games and practices.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This month has notoriously played havoc with sports. But, usually, there would be a break or two, a few days where teams can actually play games and practice outdoors. Those have been few so far.
If you are looking for answers or a solution to this dilemma there are also few.
It’s been said before but maybe those within the Catholic League have a partial solution. The league uses a 3-2 ball-strike count instead of the traditional 4-3 in baseball and softball. Now some have suggested the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association, with the nod from the Michigan High School Athletic Association, should go completely 3-2 for the entire season and the state tournament. Whether you agree with the 3-2 count or not there is no way that will be adopted. And I’m not sure it should be for the obvious reason that baseball, since the early 20th century, has been played, for the most part, with a 4-3 ball-strike count.
However, here’s a suggestion that would help games be played at a quicker pace and with a greater chance of being completed. Why not, even if for experimental reasons, go to a 3-2 ball-strike count for the month of April? When May arrives, go to the 4-3. In a recent doubleheader involving the baseball teams from Lake Orion and Warren De La Salle the 4-3 rule was used for the first game and the 3-2 for the second. Of course, to do this both coaches must agree to the change. One of the coaches involved in this doubleheader said if they did not use the 3-2 there was no chance the second game would have been completed.
Take a step back from the suggestion of using the entire month of April by using the 3-2 count. Maybe go with just the second game of the doubleheader with the 3-2 rule as the coaching staffs of these two teams did.
It’s cold. The players want to get in as many games as they can with such a short season why not try something that would speed things up?
Equal playing field enhances competition
While we’re on the subject of spring sports (it’s not football season just yet), a number of the sports that take place during this time of year are dominated by a few, mostly private, schools. No, I’m not saying we should go to two separate tournaments, one for the public schools and one for private. Not only would that be costly it would also prove counterproductive.
What I am saying is this. If a program wins three state titles in a row the next season it would be forced to play up a division. As an example, take Hudsonville Unity Christian in girls soccer. I’m not picking on Unity Christian. There are other programs that have dominated a certain level of a particular sport I want to point out facts, not a hypothetical instance. Unity Christian, since 2004, has won 10 Division 3 title. It won sixth consecutive titles from 2005-10. Unity Christian is a powerhouse. It won three straight state titles before Flint Powers won the Division 3 title last season.
One of the best parts of competing in athletics is the competition. I would argue that winning 10 state titles in 12 seasons is much closer to domination to competition.
So, to help make it a more even playing field, i.e., better competition, move Unity Christian up to Division 2 for the state tournament after it has won three consecutive titles at Division 3.
The MHSAA went to three divisions in girls soccer in 1998. It added a fourth in 2000. Beginning with that ’98 season, one public school, East Grand Rapids, has won a Division 3 girls soccer title. The Pioneers did it twice, 2000 and 2001. The other 18 have been won by private schools. Go to Division 4. One public school, Clawson in 2001, has won a state title. The other 17 have been won by private schools. Where’s the equity? Grandville Calvin Christian won four consecutive titles from 2012-15. Before it won that fourth why not force the program to compete in the Division 3 playoffs?
A question would arise on just how long a program would have to remain in the division above? Organize a committee and decide. You could just force it to stay in that higher division for one season and monitor the results. And if those results weren’t satisfactory, make a change.
This type of discussion has taken place with regards to football. And I’m not picking on soccer or football. Lacrosse, in boys and girls, has been dominated by a select few but there are few programs statewide that sponsor lacrosse, especially compared to soccer, that there aren’t that many options with that sport. Birmingham Brother Rice has won all 13 Division 1 titles awarded in boys lacrosse. One would hope, in this case, that other Division 1 programs would up their game and reach the level of Brother Rice.
Back to football. Farmington Hills Harrison won three consecutive titles in Division 3 from 1999-2001 and I would be surprised if coach John Herrington would have complained had the rule I suggested would have been implemented then and force Harrison to compete in the Division 2 playoffs in 2002. East Grand Rapids won five consecutive Division 3 titles (2006-10) and its unlikely then coach Peter Stuursma would have complained if his team would have been forced to compete in Division 2 in 2009. As a point of reference, Lowell won the Division 2 title in 2009 and wouldn’t it have been interesting to watch those two O-K Conference rivals play each other in the playoffs? Now that’s competition.