Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Problem With Holiday Hoop Tourneys in NH

Over the last few days there were many holiday basketball tournaments that were played. Seemingly every boys and girls varsity team in the state was in action. And that's a good thing. Hey, the more basketball the kids are playing the better. But here's the problem.


All of the games that were played this week, and not one of them counted in the standings. As a result you have some teams that are going all out to win Christmas Tourney championships while others are toying with lineup combinations and resting starters who would be out there if it were a "real game." This is wrong. Either the games count or they don't. You can't have it both ways.

To me, this is just like how in football we have the ridiculous scheduling system where teams have to play inter-division games that have no bearing on the standings smack dab in the middle of their divisional games.

Here's the bottom line. You have the day a team plays their first regular season game. And you have the day a team is eliminated from the playoffs and their season if officially over. Any game that they play during that span of time MUST count in the standings. It really is not a difficult concept to figure out. So it's beyond me why our state is missing the boat so badly here.

Scrimmages serve a purpose. Scrimmages are for teams to toy with lineup combinations. To build team camaraderie and continuity. To establish roles, to figure out a rotation. To work on plays and sets. Scrimmages also don't have as many spectators who attend. The officials aren't paid as much. The scoreboard is often times rest at the end of each quarter. Teams typically just wear practice jerseys instead of their actual game jerseys. And they don't count in the standings. These are all characteristics of scrimmages.

And oh yeah, here's the most important characteristic of scrimmages - all scrimmages MUST be played BEFORE the regular season begins. It makes absolutely ZERO sense to play scrimmages after the regular season has started. And unfortunately, that's EXACTLY what we're doing with these holiday tournaments. They don't count in the standings. They're scrimmages. So essentially what we're currently doing is having scrimmages in the middle of the season. Going into the holiday break, teams around the state have already played anywhere from 2-5 regular season games.

Teams are playing 2-5 preseason scrimmages which DON'T count in the standings. They then they play 2-5 regular season games which DO count in the standings. So now at this point coaches and players are in "regular season mode." Starters are getting most of the playing time, the games have more meaning and are high in intensity. Oh, but wait! Now that they've already played between 2-5 regular season games and have already gotten into a rhythm as a team where the players are clicking and they're starting to get used to their offensive sets and rotations, etc. now they have to go back to "scrimmage mode" as they now go to their holiday tournaments and play between 3-4 scrimmages which DON'T count in the standings. In these games they will use a deeper rotation, and will rest their starters more so as to not risk injury in a meaningless game. If they end up playing in any consolation games in their holiday tourney then watch out, because then the game will be treated even more like a scrimmage. Then after playing in their holiday tournament in "scrimmage mode" teams then have to go back and resume their regular season schedules and now play in "regular season mode." This is the scheduling system that our state is currently using. And the bottom line is, it makes ZERO sense!

Does the NBA set aside a week during the middle of their season and have a bunch of games that don't count in the standings? NO! Every game that is played from November 1 until the championship game COUNTS. Can you imagine the uproar we would see in the media if the NBA did this? What if NBA commissioner David Stern had a press conference and said, "Ok teams, I know that the preseason games are all over and we're now in the regular season. But what the heck, let's have a bunch of mini-tournaments over the holidays where the games won't count in the standings." I would LOVE to see the backlash that would ensue if this ever happened!

One of the problems with these holiday tournaments is that they contradict each other so badly. For example - at holiday tournaments they keep score, and it does NOT reset at the conclusion of each quarter. Teams wear their actual uniforms, NOT practice jerseys. The tournaments have champions, and those champions receive awards such as trophies and t-shirts. Stats are kept and an all-tourney team is voted on. There's a big, fancy program with the roster for each of the participating teams. Fans have to pay to see the games. The national anthem is played. Starting lineups are announced over the loud speaker. These are all characteristics of regular season games, NOT scrimmages. And as a result many teams go all out to win these games, playing their starters the majority of the time and bringing playoff intensity to the court.

But the fact is they're NOT regular season games, and they DON'T count in the standings. And as a result many coaches treat them like scrimmages, especially the consolation games. They figure why go all out and risk getting my star player injured or risk showing an opponent who I have to play in a regular season game next week my new inbounds play when this game doesn't even count in the standings?

So you have all of these factors working against each other. All of these things contradicting each other. I don't like it. I don't like it one bit.

As far as I'm concerned, this problem has 3 possible solutions...

a) Don't start the regular season until AFTER the Holiday Tournaments are over.
This would mean we'd be cramming in the 18 regular season games every team plays into a smaller time frame. Teams would have a handful of weeks where they play 3 games in a week. On the positive side, it would allow teams more time to prepare for the season. As it stands right now, teams start practicing and then they play their first regular season game just 2 weeks later. That is NOT enough time to prepare for the season! Especially if you're a team that has a new head coach (in case you haven't heard, there are over 20 teams across the state with a new varsity basketball coach). One negative to this approach is the fact that the NHIAA has strict rules against any type of tournament that takes place before the start of regular season games.

b) Start regular season before Christmas, but implement a system where ALL Holiday Tourney games are accounted for in the standings.
And when I say all I mean all. So even consolation games, even 7th place games would count towards the standings. Of course strength of schedule would have to be accounted for somehow. So a team like Bishop Guertin or Pinkerton boys teams who play in HIGHLY competitive tourneys like the BABC or Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament don't get penalized for losing games to tougher teams. Speaking of the Mass. tourneys, like the BABC, Greater Lawrence and IAABO Board 95 tourneys, these tournaments actually COUNT for the MIAA teams who play in them. The MIAA has it right, so why don't we?

c) Get rid of holiday hoop tourneys altogether
This is the option I honestly would rather not see happen. I do think holiday tourneys are a good thing for the kids. They're a good exposure opportunity for many area players who are hoping to play ball in college. Colleges are in between semesters right now, and most college basketball teams have a lull in their schedules at this time. It is a good chance for college basketball coaches to scout some of the local talent. Not only that but typically the way the schedules go for these holiday tournaments is 4 games all in a row. So college coaches/scouts are able to see 8 different teams all in 1 night! On Tuesday night at the Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament (QCIBT) looking around the stands it was a who's who of local college coaches. In order for the kids to get as much exposure as possible we have to have these holiday tourney games actually mean something. The head coach from St. A's doesn't want to drive out to a game to take a look at a player only to have him barely play half the game because his high school coach doesn't want to risk having his star getting injured in a game that doesn't count in the standings.

These tourneys are also a good thing because they help to foster local rivalries. In the boys QCIBT you had 6 of the top 7 teams in Division I battling it out. That tourney is GREAT for the Manchester city teams who have great rivalries. On the seacoast you had Portsmouth and Oyster River boys (one of the best rivalries in the state) squaring off in the semi-finals of the Oyster River Holiday Classic. You also get to see local rivalries involving schools from different divisions. n the Nashua North Girls Holiday Tournament you had match-ups like Dover (D-I) vs. Portsmouth (D-II) and Alvirne (D-I) vs. Souhegan (D-II). While these tournaments are great for local rivalries and local inter-division rivalries they would be even better if they actually counted in the standings!

One final note - congratulations to Milford senior guard Mike O'Loughlin for scoring his 1,000th point at the Cheshire Tire Holiday Festival. O'Loughlin has had an exceptional career for the Spartans, and was able to accomplish the feat while also helping his team won the tournament's championship.

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