Expanding the field and giving other venues besides the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson a chance to host a portion of the tournament makes sense on a lot of levels.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association’s legislative council had given approval to the proposal in February, but some votes switched and it fell short of the necessary second round of support at last week’s meeting in Clinton. No doubt some members felt pressure from coaches and school districts opposed to the move.
Tupelo would likely have hosted the smaller schools Class 1A and 2A girls and boys state tournaments next year at the BancorpSouth Arena had the proposal passed.
Northeast Mississippi has long been a hotbed of high school basketball, particularly among the smaller schools that make up the 1A and 2A classifications. Attendance would be strong if state tournaments at whatever level were held in the city.
Some schools and coaches likely had concerns about additional travel time and costs and the possibility of coming into a venue where their fans might be outnumbered. But Jackson’s central location doesn’t guarantee equity in travel and crowd support, and shifting the tournaments around – including bringing in a Gulf Coast venue to favor south Mississippi travelers – would even things out over time.
The “big house” in Jackson is a tradition, but new traditions can be established and because it’s always been done that way isn’t sufficient reason to resist change.
The Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau and Director Neal McCoy made an aggressive pitch for moving a portion of the tournament to Tupelo. The BancorpSouth Arena is an excellent basketball venue, and the city certainly has the capacity to host such an event. The economic impact would be significant.
Expanding the tournament to eight teams, which was part of the MHSAA proposal, is another element of the plan that makes sense. It gives more schools a shot at the experience of a state tournament, wherever it’s played, and any expanded field would be unwieldy without an additional venue.
Tupelo’s representatives took a good shot, and they should keep on it. This is an idea that won’t go away; it just may take a little longer to bring the doubters around.