The Extra Point: Basketball championship expansion a miss

The long-awaited change for the football championships has finally arrived but, in traditional fashion, the Mississippi High School Activities Association has adjusted another sport in what is sure to lead to a giant headache once March rolls around.

This upcoming school year will mark the first in recent memory where there will be no North or South Half basketball tournament. Instead, each team who makes it through the first two rounds of playoffs will earn a trip to Jackson. 

Dennis Clayton and I spent a long time trying to make the MHSAA’s math work before I wrote this column. We could never get it to add up. 

The MHSAA says that the tournament is expanding from the traditional 36 games to 86, a difference of fifty games. But, by our count, the tournament will be accommodating 76 teams after only 48 appearing in Jackson back in March.

Sixty-four of those will come from Classes 1A through 4A, with 16 per class. And 12 others from Classes 5 and 6A. 

Now, I’m not the best at math, but  the number of games planned doesn’t seem to add to the teams who will be attending. 

And even if my math is wrong the “special” factor of going to Jackson is easily cut in half when what feels like a third of the state gets to attend. 

The hard-fought season that it takes to get to the title game is what makes the destination so special. Teams are thrilled for the trip to the ‘Big House’ as one of the top four teams in their classification. 

How special is it when everyone else gets to go too? 

During the 2014 season I was discussing this issue with a coach who essentially said that with this move, we should just forget hosting playoffs at the schools and play the whole thing in Jackson. 

I don’t think he is wrong.

The MHSAA says that they want to do what is best for the kids. Their goal is to provide them opportunities to play in the best facilities and the best environments that our state has to offer. 

Available amenities at the Coliseum aside, the state basketball tournament has certainly lost is lustre with this change. 

The already-long eight-day tournament of semi-finals and championship games will expand to at least 11 days. For the teams who make it to the finals, they will make three separate trips.

 School districts will have to come up with the money for extra gas, extra meals, extra hotels. And for those schools who often have fund-raisers to even purchase gas for one trip, it just got a little harder to make it. 

I understand that everyone wants to be a winner, I agree that every kid and coach should be commended for their efforts but sports are about more than winning. Sometimes there is a lesson in losing, to seeing where life takes you when you don’t end up as the one with the trophy. 

Ideas that this format will be to the betterment of the tournament are ridiculous. There will still be blowouts and terrible match-ups, some top seed will get beaten by an unknown they underestimate.

The hard fact is that good teams find a way to win, no matter the field they are up against. Increasing the number of teams who earn the right to go to Jackson won’t change that. 

All it’s really going to do is tank ticket sales. And somehow I doubt that was part of the master plan.

About Donica Phifer

Donica Phifer grew up in Tishomingo, Miss with two older brothers whose extracurricular activities taught her all about sports at an early age. Before joining the Gazette staff as the Sports Editor, she was a sportswriter for The Daily Corinthian and the Online Editor for three years at The Daily Mississippian, the student newspaper of The University of Mississippi. In her free time she's usually at an Ole Miss sporting event, cheering on the Rebels.