Rogers, Over and Out: Bracket Busters – Northeast Athletic Board makes bold basketball decision

Rogers, Over and Out

By Tim Rogers

Postseason uniformity something that’s…overdue, unwanted and radical?

Only a few scrimmages have been held, cuts are still being made and Foundation Games are still a couple of weeks away.

Yet, something in the air suggests that 2013-14 is going to be a very lively – if not contentious — basketball season in the northeast part of the state.

Not all the focus will be directed on what is going to happen in the gymnasiums and arenas. Oh, sure, people will care about wins and loses. They will care about who is playing well and who isn’t. Secretly, some fans will begin making plans for being in Value City Arena in late March. Some will fret over which teams should be ranked, both locally and state-wide, and complain if their favorite team isn’t included.

Sadly, some parents will make some coaches miserable, whining that little Brisbane isn’t getting enough playing time, thus robbing him of a college scholarship. Even sadder is that many talented and dedicated coaches will decide they’ve had enough as a result of all the parental interference. They will make this season their last. It happens every winter in boys and girls programs all over the country.

JJH_RogersYet another dimension has come to the northeast, hanging in the air like a big balloon filled with contempt. It promises to be one of the most talked about issues of the season, especially as the post-season draws nearer.

For the first time in who knows how long – perhaps dating back to 1923 when Lorain High won the first big-school (Class A) state championship — a new map for the road to Columbus will be implemented by the Northeast District Athletic Board (NEDAB). It is a radical change, one that many feel is long overdue, yet regarded by others as an unwanted and unfair change. It pertains to Division I schools only and involves boys and girls teams this year, similar to the method followed in the Central (Columbus) and Southwest (Cincinnati/Dayton) districts.

“This is something that many of the coaches in our area have wanted for a long time,” said NEDAB president Jim Borchik, a former head coach and assistant at Barberton and presently the athletic director at Copley. “We wanted to get some consistency between how things are done between our district, the Central and the Southwest.”

Borchik admits the system is a work in progress and expects it to change over the next several years. He also said it is not cast in stone.

“If the coaches feel they don’t like it we are not opposed to switching to the old system,” he said. “But, I think it is worth a try.”

That last statement will be soothing for the coaches opposing the plan.

Some background. For many years boys teams in the Northeast District were divided into seven Division I sectional/district tournaments and all games were played at those sites – Alliance, Brecksville, Canton, Copley, Euclid, Midview and Solon.

The district champs at Alliance, Brecksville, Euclid and Solon advanced to the four-team regional at the Wolstein Center on the campus of Cleveland State. The Copley and Midview winners advanced to the regional at the University of Akron’s Rhodes Arena or Toledo’s Savage Arena – for the finals, where they were joined by winners from Bowling Green and Toledo.

The Canton winner – last year it was Timken – advanced to the regional at the Columbus Faigrounds, joining three teams from one of three district tournaments in Columbus. If you feel that was unfair, you are correct. It was. Ditto making the Midview winner – in last year’s case it was Brecksville-Broadview Heights – drive to Toledo for a regional final against a Toledo team. In other years the roles have been reversed and the Toledo/Bowling Green winners were required to bus it to Akron. Blame it on too few big schools in the northwest.

Most of that is now in the trash bin. We now have a “blend.” How it mixes has yet to be determined.

The NEDAB determines, by geography, where schools are assigned for sectional/district play. The organization also determines which sectional/districts will feed which regionals. Been that way since the days of no dunking or 3-point lines.

In order to explain the new policy it is best to use an example. Let’s use defending state champion Mentor. Coach Bob Krizancic’s program has had its way at the Euclid sectional/district, winning six district titles in a row and 10 of the last 13.

In the past Krizancic and staff would attend a pairings meeting at Euclid with the 12 others assigned to that sectional. On a wall or an overhead projector they would face a blow-up of a 13-team bracket. Teams were seeded by vote and placed on a line of their choosing. Every coach in the room knew the winner would move on to CSU. End of story.

The new system is extremely different. First, Alliance has been eliminated as a NEO site. The other six sites remain, with one exception. The six sites will be “blended” with Copley and Canton forming one, Solon and Euclid another and Midview and Brecksville yet another. Sectional games will not be played at the tournament site, as in the past. Instead, teams will have an opportunity to host sectional games. Schools will not be permitted to play on their home floors, which is only fair. Follow me so far?

Now comes the biggest change. Under the new system, which many coaches feel was railroaded through by the NEDAB – officials there disagree – schools will be given a choice as to which of the blended districts they want to play in. This season when Krizancic and Co. walk into the room they will face two 13-team brackets, one for Euclid and one for Solon. If the Cardinals are voted the first seed, they can chose to play at either site. The second-seeded team – let’s say it is Shaker Heights – has to play in the tournament opposite Mentor.

The same goes for others. St. Edward coach Eric Flannery may choose the Brecksville site or the Midview site. Medina coach Anthony Stacey may choose between Copley and Canton.

What has the opposing coaches upset is not that the change was implemented. They say they are upset with the way it was implemented.

“I am not against the idea,” said Krizancic, one of the perceived disgruntled. “No one knew about it. There were no massive emails sent to everyone like with other issues alerting us that this might happen.”

Borchik said that is not true.

“We have been trying to implement this for the last three years,” he said. “The change was announced at our monthly meeting in September. Most of the district reps were there. Everything was as transparent as could be. I like to think I’m a basketball guy and I get it.”

Borchik and Copley hosted the pairings meeting last year for the boys tournaments at Brecksville, Stow and Copley and the girls tournaments scheduled for Ellet, Barberton, Medina and Nordonia. There were 80 coaches – boys and girls from several divisions – in attendance. To test the waters, Borchik gave each coach an opportunity to vote for or against the issue of teams hosting sectional games. The results were significant, 67-13, in favor of the move.

St. Ignatius coach Sean O’Toole is the director of the District 2 coaches association and president of the Greater Cleveland Basketball Coaches Association. As such, he is the victim of circumstance, the messenger assigned to delivering bad news. In an email he sent to his fellow coaches he wrote, “There is no “vote” on this – it is being implemented by the NEDAB. The entire state is trying to create “consistency” in state tournaments in all sports. It is a constant discussion at all (state coaches) meetings. Thus, it is a constant discussion at all GCBCA meetings. Unfortunately, the majority of District 2 coaches rarely attend the GCBCA meetings.”

O’Toole believes the NEDAB has no hidden agendas. He feels the NEDAB works hard to promote consistency, fairness and integrity.

“I can assure you that I don’t always agree with them,” he wrote in the same email, “but in the end they are constantly trying to make decisions that are in the best interests of our student-athletes.”

I agree. I see nothing sinister about the change. In fact, I have been a proponent of such a move for years. I think it provides an opportunity for more of the best teams to reach the regionals and beyond.

And, that can’t be a bad thing.


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