Richard Stroud

Grove Sun

A plan approved by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s board of directors Wednesday will have a profound effect on the upcoming softball and baseball seasons at Grove High School.

The board approved a plan to reorganize those sports in Classes 5A and 6A into eight-team districts. Teams will play each of their seven district opponents twice, with the results being used to determine seedings for the postseason. The current postseason format that divides the 32 teams in each class into eight four-team regionals across the state will still be used, with the eight regional champions advancing to the state tournament.

The move to a district format has been in the works for some time and was widely supported by coaches and administrators in both classes. Recent surveys done by the OSSAA on the proposal garnered a high percentage of support for the plan.

The move to a single-elimination format, however, did not. The board cited the desire to have student athletes miss one less day of school – the new format would take two days to complete instead of three – as well as wanting to bring baseball and softball more in line with the formats of other sports, which all use a single-elimination format. Many coaches, however, are unhappy with that format, citing how one bad game can cost a team a shot at the title. There are numerous examples of teams coming back from an early loss to advance to the championship final and win the title, including last year’s baseball runner-up in 5A, Owasso.

The new district format will have the most immediate and profound impact on Grove High School teams, starting first and foremost with their participation in the Verdigris Valley Conference. Grove Public Schools Athletic Director Will Jones confirmed yesterday that Grove will not participate in the conference in baseball and softball during the upcoming seasons.

“We can’t play a conference schedule,” Jones said, noting the limits on the number of games a team can play. “We want to remain affiliated with the conference, but that will be something that the rest of the conference members will have to agree on.”

Grove is the only 5A school in the Verdigris Valley Conference. With 14 district games plus tournaments, Grove teams will be unable to fit in a 12-game conference schedule. Conference members will meet May 11.

“We can’t even play all of them [conference opponents] once,” Jones said. “We’ll play some of them; Jay, Miami, maybe Vinita. We take care of each other.”

“It’s going to change the way we schedule,” Grove baseball coach Bret Bouher added Tuesday. “The people we play and have played for years, we’re not going to be able to play anymore.”

The district format is a replacement for the rankings previously used to determine the seedings for the regional tournaments. The rankings are widely derided by many, including Jones, as being biased and unethical.

“Eliminating the rankings is a good thing. It exposes unethical coaches.”

Grove softball coach Jeremy Collins, whose team overcame questionable rankings throughout the 2010 season on their way to the state semifinals, is also happy to see the rankings go.

“It’s hard to move up in the rankings. It seems like once you’re up there, you stay up there, but it’s hard to climb up. There’s not a lot of movement.”

Grove teams are also hampered by being located far from the Tulsa and Oklahoma City media markets, resulting in less exposure to coaches statewide in the state’s major media outlets.

One big drawback to the new district system, however, will be travel. The closest 5A school, Pryor, is an hour away, and any potential district opponents would require a drive of one to two hours, many of those trips coming on school nights.

“The travel will definitely be a bad thing for Grove,” Jones said.

May 2 is the current target date for assigning teams to districts in softball. Baseball assignments will be no earlier than July when 2011 ADM numbers are released by the OSSAA. Districts will then have member meetings to determine a schedule.

“It’s going to make it tough to get a schedule done,” Collins said. “I thought they might wait a year [to implement the plan].”

One thing Jones can confirm at this point is that district assignments will not be based on the current district assignments for football. Current members of Grove’s district in football include Pryor, Tahlequah and Coweta, three teams that, along with Grove, all qualified for last year’s state tournament in softball.

“They’ll have to run it through the softball advisory committee,” Jones said. “It won’t be the same [assignments] as football.”

Though much remains to be done to implement the plan and not much time to do it in, Collins for one feels the change was necessary.

“Overall, I think it will be better. I think that’s why they’re doing it. In the end it will be a good thing. It’s just getting to that point that’s the difficult part.”