High school basketball is now a five-class world in Maine, so just where will we determine all the champions?
One benefit of the expansion from four classes that gained final approval from the Maine Principals’ Association general membership Thursday is that with a fifth class, two additional state champions — one boys team and one girls team in the new Class AA — and four more regional winners will be crowned.
But what will the new tournament format look like with a fifth class added to an already tight schedule dependent on the meteorological vagaries of the typical Maine winter?
That’s for MPA leadership and its basketball tournament committees to decide during the coming months.
My sense is the MPA will do what it can not to disturb the scheduling traditions of the existing Classes A, B, C and D tournaments significantly.
The only possible exception to that might involve the new Class A North, which possibly could be shifted north to Bangor to make room for a new Class AA North regional in Augusta.
But I don’t expect that to happen because 11 of the 14 schools in the new Class A North are closer to Augusta than they are to Bangor.
Expect little if any change in the Bangor tournament schedule, with the Cross Insurance Center hosting the Class B, C and D North regionals and state championship games on a rotating basis. A possible exception could bring an extra state final doubleheader to the Queen City if all five classes are to determine their state champions on the same weekend.
As for the Augusta Civic Center, it could continue to host the Class A North and Class C and D South regionals as well as state championship games.
One of the more emotional issues during the tournament-scheduling process may be where to hold the new Class AA regional. That eight-team division consists of four Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference schools — Bangor, Edward Little of Auburn, Lewiston and Oxford Hills of South Paris — that have played tournament games in Augusta and four Southwestern Maine Athletics Association programs — Windham, Portland, Cheverus and Deering — that have played their regionals in Portland.
Where that regional is played, Augusta or Portland, could impact what other regionals are held in those two cities.
Class AA South and Class A South are likely to be played in Portland, as is the revised Class B South — though a case will be made by some schools from the former Western C to move that regional to Augusta.
The Portland tournaments in recent years have had quarterfinals at the Portland Expo and semifinals and regional finals at the Cross Insurance Arena.
Adding regionals in Portland might be dependent on having more access to either or both facilities, and the Expo also is home to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Developmental League.
Some basketball followers already have suggested that the Class AA tournament could be held separately after vacation week, as was the case with the Class A tournament until 2006.
But in a recent email exchange with MPA executive director Dick Durost, he reminded me that among the reasons expressed for moving the Class A regionals to February vacation week “was a belief that Class A did not receive the same excitement or attention as the other classes because it was not part of the vacation/tournament week.”
Moving any regional or state finals outside the current tournament schedule by as much as two weekends would be dependent on the availability of arenas that seek to generate as much business as they can at that time of year with other events, be they Red Claws’ games, boat shows, concerts or flower shows.
There’s also the possibility of starting the Class AA regionals earlier, perhaps as a tournament kickoff of sorts on Thursday before the quarterfinals begin in other classes the next day. With six teams qualifying for postseason play in both the North and South there would be no AA preliminary-round games, and each regional would require just four total quarterfinals, two for the boys and two for the girls.
Those Class AA quarterfinalists in both regions would miss no more school time that week than teams in any other class that play a prelim.
Then, in theory, the Class AA semifinals and regional finals could be integrated into vacation week with the state finals added to the championship weekend for the other classes.
Having had a night to think about all the possibilities, that might be my favorite of all the alternatives.
Sure, weather issues undoubtedly will crop up and the even tighter vacation week schedule would have to be extended into the following week when the kids are back at school, but that’s the reality of staging such a statewide event near the 45th parallel.
Right now it’s all as clear as mud as my old geometry teacher, Gary Larson, would say. And yes, it has the potential to be complicated.
And I know that no matter the solution, people will complain because people complain about everything these days.
But could it be any worse than the old eight-game Class A quarterfinal days at the Bangor Auditorium? I don’t think so.