02/25/09 — Opinion -- Three-decade-old tradition needs help

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Opinion -- Three-decade-old tradition needs help

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on February 25, 2009 1:46 PM

As the emotion and intensity of competition raged loudly on the court during high school basketball conference tournaments last week, a much different war of attrition quietly brewed behind the scenes.

In the past week, multiple coaches in the area have adamantly expressed their displeasure off the record to the News-Argus about the entire principle of conference tournaments.

Rather than playing as many as three games in a week beyond the rigors of the regular season as was the case for some teams, many coaches admitted they would rather have the time to get players healthy, practice, study game film and prepare for the state playoffs.

These feelings were not only reserved for coaches whose teams finished toward the bottom of their respective conferences and thus earned lower seeds in their tournaments. As the coach of one top-seeded squad told me, "I hate the conference tournament."

In the past five years no team from any of the three area conferences -- the Eastern Carolina 3-A, the Eastern Plains 2-A or the Carolina 1-A -- has improved its seeding in the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs by its performance in its respective conference tournament.

Wayne County Schools athletics director Dean Sauls pointed out on Monday that conference tournaments have been held in the county as far back as the late 1970s and that each school in the conference agrees to have the tournament at least a year in advance.

According to Sauls, the conference tournaments help fund sports such as swimming, wrestling and indoor track that generate lesser revenues.

However, the proceeds from ticket sales at conference tournament games are put into a treasury and the schools from each respective conference receive a check for a sixth of the revenue at a later date because each area conference has six members.

Before the money collected from ticket sales can be pocketed by any of the area's three conferences, each school hosting a tournament game must take care of expenses -- the referees, police officers, clock keeper and ticket takers each night it hosts ballgames.

Sauls estimated that each Goldsboro police officer receives $35 to $40 per hour for providing security and that officers can spend as many as five to six hours a night at one school.

Varsity referees are paid $60 each per game which means hosting three games in one night as Goldsboro High School did last Friday can cost a school $540. Factor in paying ticket takers a clock keeper and the cost of trophies and as Sauls said, "It really does take a chunk of the net receipts."

Schools fortunate enough to earn tournament home games gain a distinct advantage over those forced to go on the road from the standpoint of concession sales. All revenue generated from concessions is kept by that respective school and not shared by each member of the conference the way ticket sales are.

Sauls also addressed the issue of third-place games featuring two schools within close proximity of each other that are forced to play at a host site a considerable distance from each school. This happened on Friday when the girls' teams from Southern Wayne and Eastern Wayne met in the ECC third-place game at Kinston High School.

According to Sauls, this occurred because at least a week before each conference tournament began the conference presidents, principals and athletic directors each agreed to play the third-place games in the gym of the No. 1 seed.

Many in favor of the conference tournament format may argue it gives teams that have struggled during the regular season one last chance to punch their ticket to the state playoffs. I would counter that those teams are afforded the same opportunity during the regular season to advance to the postseason as their conference counterparts.

In order for conference tournaments to become a thing of the past schools from each conference would need a minimum vote of 4-2 in favor of doing away with a tradition more than 30 years old.

Like it or not, that tradition ultimately driven by the almighty dollar doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.