New baseball playoff format miffs local coaches|[7/21/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 21, 2005

Baseball coaches across Mississippi rejoiced when the decision was made to expand the Class 5A playoffs for next season.

After learning just how the bracket will work, however, they’re singing a different tune.

The first round of the 2006 playoffs will be played as a three-team, double-elimination tournament, with the eight division winners hosting and matching up against the second- and third-place teams from a different division.

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That’s frustrating for coaches who could now face the same team as many as six times in one season.

“I just think it’s stupid,” Warren Central coach Randy Broome said. “For us and Madison or Vicksburg to drive all the way to Southaven to play each other is (stupid).”

The new bracket was adopted because of its similarity to the one used in Classes 1A through 4A, said Larry Thomas, associate director for the Mississippi High School Activities Association.

In the lower classes, however, there are between 50 and 56 teams broken up into eight regions, making a neat 32-team playoff bracket. Four teams from each division advance to the first round, which is played as a four-team, double-elimination regional with the eight division winners hosting.

There are only 32 teams total in Class 5A, which forced MHSAA officials to tweak the system to accommodate an unwieldy 24 playoff teams. Three teams from each division will make the Class 5A playoffs in 2006, up from only two in previous years.

“It’s the same format as 1A through 4A. With 5A, basically it was ‘do what we were doing with the other classifications,'” Thomas said. “We wanted to be consistent with every classification.”

Neither Broome nor Vicksburg coach Jamie Creel was completely upset with the new format for Class 5A. Both were happy with the addition of a third playoff team, which will help them in a strong division, and didn’t mind playing through a regional to reach the second round.

What they object to is having to play yet another game against a division foe.

In Division 3-5A, which includes Warren Central, Vicksburg, Madison Central and Greenville, teams will play each other three times in the regular season. Add in a first-round playoff game and a rematch or two at some point in the regional, and it’s just too much familiarity, they said.

Instead, Creel and Broome felt the regionals should have included teams from three different divisions.

“It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It seems like you could divide them better,” Creel said. “It could work. But the solution they have, it doesn’t seem like the most viable option.”

The scheduling of the regional could also become a point of contention. It will be played on a Thursday-Friday-Saturday schedule, with the first game between the second- and third-place teams from a particular division at 4 p.m. Thursday.

The winner of that game would turn around and play the host at 7 p.m. The loser of Game 2 would then face the loser of Game 1 in an elimination game at 4 p.m. Friday. That winner would advance to face the winner of Game 2 at 7 p.m. Friday.

A championship game would be played at 1 p.m. Saturday if needed.

Division 3-5A will match up in the regional round with Division 1-5A, which includes Southaven, Horn Lake, Olive Branch and South Panola. The playoffs are scheduled to begin on April 20. The last three rounds of the postseason will be played in a best-of-three format.

The layout of the regional puts a premium on having a deep pitching staff, Broome said, as well as winning the division and getting the advantages that come with it.

“One thing I like about this tournament is it eliminates the one-guy staff,” Broome said. “It basically levels the playing field.”