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Basketball: MPA panel chooses to keep classification drop-down rule into next year

Mar. 26—The classification rule to allow struggling basketball programs to drop down a class will remain unaltered going into next year, following a meeting of the Maine Principals' Association's Basketball Committee on Tuesday morning.

At the meeting, the committee discussed several prominent talking points facing the sport, including Class AA structure, replay usage, shot clocks and the rule that made its debut this season allowing teams with a winning percentage below 25% over the previous four seasons to drop down a class and remain tournament eligible. The hope behind the rule is that giving those teams a better chance for competitive games would lead to stronger numbers in coming seasons.

Members of the committee spoke positively about how the rule worked in its first year, and opted to stick with it for another year before making any changes. Sixteen teams — seven boys' teams and nine girls' teams — made the move, and 13 of them had better records than the season before. Ten made the postseason.

"I think it worked well," committee member and Augusta tournament director Ryan Wilkins said. "It was a good experience. I think it (was) a better experience ... for those kids than having no tournament experience at all. It did what I thought it would do.

"I think if it's a two-year cycle, it's a two-year cycle, and we have to let it run its course. Then we can make decisions like that after we've had an opportunity to see it through for a couple of years and see the impact."

Coaches are split on the rule, with some believing that playing in the lower class helps programs that need it, while others say the presence of bigger schools makes it unfair for the smaller schools trying to make the playoffs.

"I definitely see both sides," said Maranacook boys' basketball coach Travis Magnusson, the representative from the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches. "... I see why you would do it. Nobody likes when a program's bad for 10 years, so the whole point of it is trying to give them something to build their program up."

The committee spoke about blowback that could increase if the teams playing down win championships. The Waynflete girls in Class D South and Noble boys in Class A South reached regional title games in their first seasons playing down, and the Biddeford girls are projected to be one of the top teams in Class B South after going from zero to 11 wins last year.

"You're going to have people concerned with that type of stuff," Magnusson said. "I see the point of why you did it, I also see the point of why a coach would be mad if they lost to a team that ended up winning a state championship."

The committee discussed immediate tweaks to the rule, including adding playoff spots to the regions receiving dropping down teams. For example, in Class A South boys, where Noble and Massabesic played after moving down from Class AA, this would have created two more tournament spots.

Bonny Eagle Athletic Director Eric Curtis said he was in favor of keeping the rule that two-thirds of teams in a region qualify, and not adding spots to account for teams playing down.

"The Noble boys situation, yeah, they took somebody's spot, but did that team belong in a tournament? Or are we continuing to water it down?" he said.

The committee also discussed the possibility of a shot clock, and the hurdles schools would face to pay for and operate one. Magnusson said coaches are conducting a survey to see how amenable school administrations would be to adding it.

"If we're trying to help players be ready for college too, it would make the players more skilled as well," Magnusson said.

Curtis said finding someone to operate the shot clock could be challenging.

"It would add some benefit to the high school game," he said. "But I can barely get people to do my (game) clock, let alone add another person to do the shot clock."

Another talking point was the structure of Class AA, which has been scrutinized before due to its small regions — with only seven AA North girls' and AA South boys' teams, all teams in those regions made the playoffs — and quarterfinal games that are played not at neutral site venues, but the higher seeds' home gyms.

Edward Little Athletic Director Todd Sampson led the discussion, suggesting a redesign of AA similar to boys' hockey and having one region, with the semifinals being called divisional championships. Any changes would have to be brought to the MPA's classification committee, which meets April 29.

"I say to (AA schools) you can't have your cake and eat it too," Sampson said. "You can't continue to be upset that you don't have AA in a tournament venue, and when we're giving you an option to get AA into a tournament venue ... say 'Well, I want a regional championship.' "

The committee voted approvingly for a change to replay, which would allow for buzzer-beaters to be reviewed for whether the shooter was in bounds or out of bounds, in addition to whether or not the shot was on time and if it was inside or beyond the 3-point line. The adjustment is pending approval by the general membership, which will meet April 4.