Longer basketball season brings more opportunities
The high school basketball season tipped off the day after Thanksgiving for hundreds of girls teams. It will end March 23, eight days before Easter, when the last of four boys championships is decided.
The road from Point A to Point B is longer this year than ever before, but as of now, no one seems to mind.
Boys and girls teams can play a maximum of 22 regular-season games this year, up from the 20-game standard that had stood since 1979. That year, the number of games went up from 18.
"We were behind the times," Upper Arlington boys coach Tim Casey said. "We just need to increase (players') playing experience and get more games in."
Indiana still has a 20-game limit, but Texas teams can play 21 games and compete in a maximum of three tournaments. Kentucky's limit is 23 games and two tournaments. We have an abundance of talent here, but clearly there's a gap that needs filled if Ohio's talent will approach that of other states.
Of course, playing 40 games, as could happen in Texas, is too much. Texas' season starts in mid-November and ends about two weeks earlier than ours. It fills a lot of athletic departments' coffers, but pushes specialization. Whereas an Ohio high school football player whose team makes a deep postseason run could join his basketball team having missed one or two games, if that, the same occurrence in Texas would mean a player is joining the next sport almost two months into the year, counting preseason practice.
The best thing is our student-athletes will get a couple more games to shine and have fun. Practice builds teams. Games are what players and fans remember.
"It's more opportunities to play. The kids like it, and that's most important," Casey said. "And it gives us a little flexibility come holiday time as far as tournaments. We can go to a three-game tournament, and that's what a lot of (tournaments) are doing. You get an opportunity to travel, too.
"It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out."
More opportunities to play might mean more looks from colleges and, possibly, a chance to build skills to match players in other states, against whom Ohio players are competing for scholarships. That's not an intended benefit, but it might be there.
A random sampling of coaches before the season found mostly positive reviews. Some didn't say much, though, possibly because they wanted to experience a 22-game season first before passing judgment.
"It is a three-and-a-half-month-long season and kids get tired of practice," Grove City girls coach Dale Corbett said. "With that in mind, the extra games keep their interest."
DeSales girls coach Brian Cromwell largely agreed, but added a 20-game season "is a grind," let alone 22. The Stallions usually start their season as late in November as possible, giving themselves room to practice with a full team in case the school's girls soccer and volleyball teams make deep tournament runs, as was the case this year. The soccer team lost in the Division II state final Nov. 9, a day after the volleyball team lost a Division II state semifinal.
"It's good because the girls get to play more. If they enjoy it, that's great," Cromwell said. "I never thought there was a need for an extra game or two. It's a long season. It's a grind. It brings out a lot of character in a team and a coaching staff. I don't think it hurts, but I don't know where (the movement) came from. I never felt like it was really necessary."
Most years, Pickerington North girls coach Dave Butcher would have been happier with a larger schedule. The Panthers play 14 OCC-Ohio Division games and three in their Lady Panther Holiday Classic, leaving them just three dates to fill in a 20-game season.
"I did like it when it was set up," Butcher said of the 22-game schedule. "(In past seasons) you had some weeks or almost 10 days without a game. You get to midseason and none of the girls want to practice that much. That's the plus. The negative is we scheduled two more really difficult teams. There's a lot (to say) for competition, but there's a lot for winning, too. Competition makes you better, but winning makes you believe in yourself."
The longer the road, the sweeter the victories.