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Commentary: To count or not to count, that is the question
by Dan Eckles - Commentary
Jan 28, 2012 | 814 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There are a few occasions where Northern 4A athletic directors would be well suited to better listen to their coaches about prep sports issues. After all, the coaches are the ones working with the student athletes on a daily basis.

One such issue that’s on my radar is crossover games. The Northern 4A is comprised of two six-team leagues, the High Desert and Sierra. When schools from one league play the other, these are called crossover games.

Prior to the 2010-11 school year, schools in various sports could schedule these at their will. Some did and some did not. They were often preseason games that never counted toward a league record.

That changed two years ago when Northern 4A athletic directors voted to put crossover games on master schedules and have them count toward league play. Many coaches weren’t happy then and even more are not now. I didn’t understand the AD’s decision then and I still don’t.

The move affected volleyball, soccer and basketball where programs play each team in their league twice, home and away, and each team in the other league once. All 16 games count toward a team’s league record.

The two-year realignment cycle is ending and the issue is again up for debate. In November, the Northern 4A ADs voted to continue the current format of putting crossover games on a master schedule and counting them toward league play. But the issue is far from put to bed.

At an NIAA Tournament Committee meeting 11 days ago, that group put out a recommendation to the Northern 4A that crossover games not count toward league standings. The recommendation has regional ADs doing a double take.

They don’t know if they’re being asked to change their stance or will be forced to change their stance. Both Spanish Springs AD Art Anderson and Reed AD Ron Coombs said their group will look to the NIAA for guidance on the issue.

But what guidance, if any, will they get? At Monday’s Northern 4A meeting, NIAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine said one thing.

“It’s not something we like to do, but the NIAA can trump this group,” Bonine said. “We’re not in the business of putting committee’s together if the board’s not going to take their recommendations.”

Then on Wednesday, in a telephone interview with the Sparks Tribune, NIAA Assistant Director Donnie Nelson said another.

“The Northern 4A is not going to get a recommendation from this office,” he said. “We aren’t going to micromanage how games count. We haven’t done that and we won’t start doing that now.

“We leave that stuff up to the leagues. We are interested in how many teams get into the postseason and the format from there. How the leagues do their regular season and what counts and doesn’t count to determine league seeding is not a major priority of this office. That decision will ultimately lie with Northern 4A administrators.”

Considering differing responses from the NIAA’s talking heads, it’s easy to see why Northern 4A ADs could be confused.

But ultimately, the NIAA’s stance shouldn’t matter. The ADs should just change their vote to make the crossover games not count.

Here’s why ... crossover games are played in the first weeks of the season. Coaches don’t want to play counting games on Opening Night and in the early going of their season. They want to evaluate talent in that time frame.

Coaches rarely have their talent fairly evaluated on Opening Night and early in the season. You need games to do that. It’s not fair to coaches or players to compete in league games, that affect postseason standing, in the first weeks of the season, let alone Opening Night.

In this current basketball season, many schools moved league games scheduled in December because they had football teams playing into basketball season. This issue could be avoided if crossover games did not count toward league play. You can bet coaches would not have felt the need to move games if they did not count or have huge potential postseason ramifications.

Washoe County School District Coordinator of Activities and Athletics, Ken Cass, believes counting crossover games toward a league record is foolish. And Cass is not just a district big wig with normal real life experience. He coached football at McQueen during the Lancers glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s.

“What’s disappointing is that at the NIAA tournament meeting we said crossover games should not count. We talked and there was not one opposing voice,” said Cass. “I don’t think counting crossover games is a wise decision quite honestly.

“I know I wouldn’t want them for football. So I know I wouldn’t want them for basketball or anything else.”

You’d think that opinion would carry a little more weight since nine of the 12 Northern 4A ADs answer to Cass’s district athletic office.

I’ve heard multiple reasons from ADs as to why the crossover games should count toward league play and I don’t buy any of them.

Some say ‘We scheduled the crossover games to keep teams more local and guarantee all schools a good number of games.’ Reed girls basketball and Spanish Springs softball for instance have had trouble getting other schools to play them when the crossovers were not mandatory.

That’s all fine and dandy, but that’s not a reason for why the games should count toward league play. The word I get from most coaches is they don’t mind playing the crossover games as long as they don’t count. Coaches also want the crossover games scheduled early in the season, not spread out through their regular league schedule.

For example, in the current basketball season, there are only two weeks left in the regular season and schools still have a crossover game to play.

Another reason ADs want them to count is so coaches take them seriously. If you’re a high school coach, you’re a competitive person. Coaches want to win every time their team suits up. That shouldn’t be a real concern.

I’ve also heard ADs say ‘If we don’t make the crossover games count toward league play, coaches will try to remove them from their schedules for a better option.” That’s a pretty simple fix. ADs can just tell their coaches that’s not an option.

If a crossover game is on the schedule, even in a non-league status, the schools should still have to play it. There is no opting out. That excuse is downright stupid. It’s like certain ADs need the strength of the whole Northern 4A body to make the decision so they can point to that rather than standing up to their own coach.

Have a backbone. When my boss tells me to do something, I don’t have a choice not to do it. I do it or get fired. Why would an AD think a coach has the option to back out if they’re given specific direction not to.

I’m not the only one who feels this way.

“In my opinion, that argument has no weight,” Cass said. “If an AD says, here’s your schedule, then that’s your schedule. A coach backing out of a game for a different option wouldn’t happen if I was the AD or even if I’m still in this job.”

Given the NIAA’s different public responses to the issue, I’m curious to see how this shakes out. You can bet I’m not the only one.

Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune’s sports editor. He can be reached via email at: deckles@dailysparkstribune.com

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