C & G sports writers submit their wish lists for the holidays

By: Christian Davis, Jason Carmel Davis, Mark Vest, Mike Moore, Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published December 22, 2017

Ask and you shall receive. 

Ok, maybe that’s not how the holiday season always works, but what about a wish here and there?

Yes, it’s that time of year again to take a lighthearted approach to prep sports — to tie the games, the stories and the season all into one.

It’s been customary within the C & G Sports Department the past few seasons to ask athletic directors and coaches what gift they would bestow upon their programs if money — and reality — didn’t stand in the way.

Any gift, and it was theirs.

But now, for our 2017 edition, we are getting in on the action.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association alters rules, mostly minor, every year. So we thought we’d offer our own suggestions.

There’s no evidence that anything we’re asking for has a shot of coming to fruition, or even should, but it can’t hurt to dream.

Here’s a look at each reporter’s wishes.
 

The ‘almighty six’ 
Since the “six wins and you’re in” rule was implemented for automatic football playoff berths in the fall of 1999, we’ve seen some great stories and special runs through the postseason.

Yet one problem has arisen that I’ve seen. It’s become about the almighty “six.” Or in some cases, the almighty “five” for teams that play an eight-game schedule.

In many instances, you see division championships and difficult scheduling take a back seat to just trying to earn that automatic bid. 

When you are scheduling, why would you take on a perennial power or the consistent program down the road when you can look for a team that most likely will end in victory?

On the flip side, some teams have difficulty finding opponents. You see it every year in the Catholic High School League Central Division, where programs have to schedule nonconference games with teams from Ohio or farther because many local schools would rather fill their nonconference slate with traditionally less strong programs. 

It’s understandable, and I can’t blame them, but I’d like to see more emphasis put on strength of schedule when it comes to making the playoffs. Sure, we have playoff points now, and it does help decide seeding. It also plays a factor in which nonautomatic teams get in if there is enough room in the bracket.

In my perfect world, we’d keep the same total amount of teams that make the playoffs, but we wouldn’t have the six-win rule. Instead, all division champions make it, and then the rest of the field is strictly based on the playoff points earned during the season.

Granted, the formula for earning points would have to get another good look to make sure it’s up to date with the new system, but in the end, I think the most deserving squads would get into the field, division championships would mean even more, and challenging schedules would be rewarded. 

— Christian Davis

 

Keep it simple
Locally, the Oakland Activities Association and the Macomb Area Conference are the two big powers. The MAC boasts more than 30 schools to its name, and the OAA has more than 20.

Within each, schools are divided by division and are reordered each year or every two years depending on how well the program has done in a specific sport. Proximity and school size does play a factor, but not much.

With this system, what inevitably ends up happening is, the school that had a special class of seniors and won its division gets bumped up to the next division with less experienced players. 

On the other side, a school that had a young group and took its losses learning is moved down a division where it’s senior-heavy and dominates its new landscape. 

The other negative effect of this system is that it takes away from building rivalries and familiarity with programs. There have been countless times when coaches have admitted they don’t know which division they are in or who is in the division with them because of the constant change. 

The answer: Divide the divisions by school size and call it a day. Yes, there will be traditional powers and teams that routinely find themselves near the bottom of the standings. 

But that’s life. There’s a first place and there’s a last place. Learning from both is one of the character-building fundamentals that make sports special. 

— Christian Davis

 

Shot clock would benefit all parties involved
The 24-second shot clock was introduced in 1954 by an NBA owner who found that all the games he enjoyed watching featured more up-tempo action as opposed to stalling to preserve a lead.

The NCAA adopted a 45-second shot clock in 1985 before cutting it back to 35 seconds in 1993 and to 30 seconds in 2015.

There are currently nine states that utilize a shot clock at the high school level: Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, Washington, New York, California, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association will begin using the clock in the 2019 season.

I believe the MHSAA should adopt the change in the near future as well.

It can only help all parties involved. Players would develop critical thinking skills that would benefit them on and off the court. Coaches would show how adept they are at drawing up plays late in the clock and otherwise. Fans would be treated to more compelling competition.

The move does have some drawbacks. In speaking with an MHSAA official some time ago, I found that each clock costs about $2,000. Each gym would need two clocks. If you want a clock embedded into your scoreboard, that will run you about $5,000. There’s also the fact that what should be education-based basketball does not require student-athletes and coaches to entertain the fans. While stalling may not be the most entertaining, it does help some teams remain more competitive against stiffer competition. The sped-up game could also take away from players learning fundamentals.

The stalling aspect is the major issue to me. The introduction of a shot clock could halt that, as a less talented team can play whatever defense it chooses instead of being forced to play a certain way after falling behind big.

I’m unsure if this is something the MHSAA will ever seriously consider, particularly with the costs associated with bringing in the clocks. The introduction of a shot clock at the high school level does have its advantages, though.

— Jason Carmel Davis

 

‘Super’ regional a great idea
This one is a wish coming true.

At its Dec. 1 fall meeting, the MHSAA approved a change in the format of the state playoffs set to begin in 2019 that will allow teams that advance to the regional round to use their arms more often, and I think it’s a fantastic measure.

According to the MHSAA, baseball will move from its current one-day Saturday regional and Tuesday quarterfinal to a two-day “super regional” format. The super regional will begin with regional semifinals the Wednesday following district finals, followed by two regional finals at the same site the following Saturday. That same day, the winners of the regional finals will meet in a super regional championship game — which is essentially a state quarterfinal — with the winners moving on to the state semifinals the following Thursday and Friday.

Both regional champions will continue to receive trophies, with no trophy being awarded for the super regional champion. The MHSAA softball tournament will continue with the traditional schedule of Saturday regionals, followed by Tuesday quarterfinals, and then semifinals and finals the final weekend of the season.

The change helps teams that advance to regionals greatly. It allows them to possibly throw their ace twice: in the regional semis and in either the final or the super regional. The regional round consistently features the best teams in the state, and allowing them to utilize the player who is often their best can only add to the intrigue.

— Jason Carmel Davis

 

Shake and be done
To be clear, this change I’d like to see may not be a rule, but more of a custom.

Since I played high school sports, there was always an expectation to exchange handshakes with the opposing team — win, lose or draw — once all was said and done.

But since I started covering high school sports, more specifically playoff-round championships, I’ve seen this exchange taken to the next level.

Whether it be a district, regional or a state championship event, why must the losing team remain on the field for the presentation of awards (sometimes an entire roster name by name) and then the trophy?

Shake hands, exchange hugs and go your separate ways. 

Allow the winning team the field/floor/court/ice alone, and allow the team that came close, but not close enough, the closure to the season required behind locker room doors or on the bus trip back — and not after being forced to watch a celebration unfold.

I understand the idea behind this, with sportsmanship resting at the forefront of what high school athletics should be about.

But these games, especially later in the tournament, are reserved for some of the best athletes in the state on some of the biggest stages allowed.

Both teams enter the game understanding the spoils to the victors, and the tears destined for the cheeks of those who came up short.

Once the battle is complete, shake hands, exchange congrats, and reserve the field for those moving on.

— Mike Moore

 

If you ice, they will stay
You could argue a lack of creativity with this one, which is fair. 

In turn, I would argue a sense of urgency.

The MHSAA has done wonders the past decade or so in turning high school hockey from the JV level of travel teams to what has become the main event, and likewise a key destination for some of the best hockey talents in the state.

But if there’s anything that can make a great sport average, or turn a speed game into a crawl, it’s the constant icing of the puck by a defensive team when an offense is churning up pressure.

So yes, I will copy what the NHL has done here, and ask that the MHSAA institute the same rule.

If you ice the puck, you can’t change your lines.

On top of that, you will not be permitted to use a timeout to “catch your breath,” so to speak.

While this won’t eliminate icing all together, it certainly will make a defensive team trying to dodge bullets more cognizant of simply firing the puck down the ice to ease pressure.

More scoring should be created, while stops in play would be limited.

This small change could make the best sport out there a little better.

— Mike Moore

 

Playoff berths should be earned
In high school football, there are typically just nine games played during the regular season.

With such a short schedule, every game can be meaningful for teams across the state.

But even more significant than the number of games played is the fact that teams need wins to earn a spot in the playoffs.

Teams automatically qualify for the postseason with six victories and can also make it with five wins if they earn enough points or play an eight-game schedule.

Unfortunately, for most other high school sports, there is no minimum qualifier for reaching the playoffs.

For example, if a baseball, basketball, soccer or volleyball team doesn’t win a single game during the regular season, it would still automatically qualify for the playoffs.

Earning a chance to go to the postseason should be a reward and not an automatic right.

As with football, there should be a certain number of wins or points required to qualify for postseason play.

Another option could be allowing only the top three or four teams from each division to advance, with a formula in place should there be a tie.

Aside from being a proper reward for teams that perform well during the regular season, it could also make regular-season games a lot more interesting.

— Mark Vest

 

How about instant replay?

A strong argument can be made that instant replay has been the greatest technological advancement in sports.

The NFL, the NHL, the MLB and the NBA all utilize instant replay. It has helped get incorrect calls right and has been credited with helping teams win games.

Even though high school players aren’t making a living at what they do — and typically aren’t getting national attention — the joy of victory or the agony of defeat can affect them just as much as a professional athlete, and in some cases, maybe moreso.

Given that the technology exists to help correct errors by officials, why not invest the time to try to get it right and help avoid costing teams a game and potentially something as significant as a championship.

It may not be realistic to utilize instant replay in all sports right now, but football could be a good one to start with.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association used it in two spring games, but it hasn’t brought it to fall football just yet. 

As is the case in the NFL, coaches could be allotted a certain number of challenges per game.

Officials should be allowed to take advantage of instant replay at their discretion.

Even though it could delay games, it’s worth it if it helps get things right.

It wouldn’t be a cure-all, but it’s better to have some mistakes corrected than none at all.

Admittedly, I don’t know all that would be involved with making instant replay happen, including the potential cost. It might be something that simply isn’t feasible at the high school level.

But if it is utilized, it could be a game-changer — literally.

— Mark Vest

 

30 seconds or less
My immediate thought is for a shot clock.

In college, I worked as a statistician for the Detroit Pistons radio broadcasts. Sitting courtside, I saw up close the importance of setting a pace and running a play to find a quality look or shot. All of this must happen in 24 seconds, forcing a flow that creates a decent product to watch.

Also in college, I covered the Oakland University men’s basketball team for the student paper and radio station. Again from my courtside vantage point, I’d observe that same necessary pace and play structure. However, the difference between 24 seconds and the standard 30 in college felt like an eternity.

Now in this role, watching prep games without a shot clock is oftentimes watching without the  aforementioned pace, play-calling and flow. Usually when covering contests, I’m near or behind the team’s benches, able to eavesdrop on the instruction given in huddles. Some coaches tell their team to prolong a possession to bleed the clock — something I dislike but can be a brilliant move that is well within the rulebook.

When a coach can instruct a team to allow over three minutes on a single possession to tick off on the hardwood, it is cumbersome and creates a game that is not pleasant to watch.

I certainly don’t blame coaches for doing it, because it is allowed under the current rules. However, the chief item on my wish list would be to join the nine other states in the country that have a shot clock — and quite literally get with the times.

— Timothy Pontzer

 

Put the top players on the pitch
Through this gig, I have had the opportunity to cover some great high school soccer. I’ve followed local boys and girls teams make deep runs in the postseason and have watched many players at the prep level before moving on to continue their careers in college. 

However, I’m unable to see the best of the best, as most of the elite soccer players in the area ply their trade for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Those that choose to play for clubs in the system such as Vardar and Nationals are restricted from playing for their respective high schools because the seasons overlap. This has been the case with the boys since 2013, and the same format will now be in place for girls soccer this upcoming season.

My wish would be to allow the top soccer players to wear the jersey of their high school while also going through the academy, perhaps with a break or a lightened schedule during the prep season.

I spoke with several local high school girls soccer coaches about their thoughts on the change. Nearly all were disappointed with it, with the consensus being that it will significantly lower the quality on the pitch.

Talking to those at the helm of some of the large, premier school teams in our coverage area, several said their rosters would take a hit but they would be able to manage due to depth. 

However, speaking with those coaches at smaller schools, they feared a major blow. For schools at that level, it will be tough to try to convince a young standout to stay and play at their high school when the allure of the academy can promise better things. This is especially true when these teams can’t offer the same facilities, coaching and talent alongside the player as a bigger high school, let alone the U.S. Soccer program.

— Timothy Pontzer