The State (Game)

by Maine Basketball Rankings

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Caribou boys have a long drive to play in the Gold Ball Game. They’ll have to drive 301 miles each way to Portland, which just happens to be further than their opponent will travel all year long (playoffs included!). Cape Elizabeth has a 5.5 mile drive, which isn’t quite the distance of the Beach to Beacon 10K that uses Cape Elizabeth High School as a base of operations. It’s the kind of thing that really grabs the attention of people who only have a passing idea of the travel issues inherent in the state and how it relates to fair play. I mean, one team has to travel further for 1 game than the other team travels in the entire year! That’s clearly unfair! Something should be done!

And who could have possibly predicted this? It’s not like [checks map] nearly all of the schools in B North are at least 2 hours from Portland.

But…Maine is a big state and a lot of it is pretty empty. And it’s not like, say, Pennsylvania where there’s a big empty space in the middle and a city on either side. Four counties that border Canada (Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, and Somerset) account for 53.7% of the land in this state and only 13.1% of the population. Nearly 40% of the state’s population lives in the Portland “metropolitan” area. That creates certain issues for a team like Caribou (or Fort Kent. Or Presque Isle.)

Let’s run through a couple things.

It’s Maine

You’re gonna have to drive. Get over it. If you live in a town called Caribou, the games aren’t coming to you. We’re not playing the State Game in Fort Kent. It’s also winter. When thinking about travel times, it’s worth keeping in mind that 2 hours on the interstate can be a lot easier than 1 hour on back roads, especially if it’s snowing. Those 301 miles from Caribou to Portland? 299.9 of them are on what you’d consider “major roads”. The other 1.1 are in Portland. Meanwhile, Forest Hills has 73.6 miles through the mountains on 201 before getting to Waterville. If it’s snowing, you’d rather have Caribou’s drive than a much shorter one.

The MPA’s Role

The MPA’s job, whether or not they want to admit it, is to provide a level playing field whenever possible. They are objectively terrible at this, but that isn’t an excuse.

No team, under any circumstances, should be playing a tournament game with a home court advantage. The fact that this is commonly allowed is deplorable. The NCAA not only won’t let a (men’s) team play a game on their home floor, but they can’t even play on a floor they’ve played on 4 times during the year. So if Duke were to play 4 times at Madison Square Garden, they couldn’t be in a region that plays there. By the way, 4 games translates to 13% of their regular season schedule. 13% of 18 is a little more than 2. Playing on a floor 3 times in the week before a game? That’s a home court advantage.

In a perfect world, we’d play the state game at the third tournament site. That way, we’re determining the Gold Ball at a truly neutral site.

Except…

Class A, C, & D. Class A plays in Portland and Augusta. Imagine telling those two teams they have to go to Bangor. C and D play in Augusta and Bangor. They aren’t going to Portland. AA refuses to leave Portland anyway. Never mind that it’s the right thing to do. Forget for a moment that it takes a certain Debbie Downer mentality to get to the Gold Ball game and complain about having to drive too far (oh noes!). That’ll never happen.

If the MPA were committed to fair play, they’d put the State Game in the 3rd site, regardless of the complaining, but they aren’t, so someone is going to get a home court advantage. That unavoidable without either 1) a 4th site, or 2) a lot of driving.

Honestly, I’m not familiar enough with the college gyms in the state to know if any of them are big enough to handle a Gold Ball game, even a Class D one, but if people think the Expo is a pro-level gym, I’m guessing not. Theoretically, you’d play the A game in Lewiston?

If you think about it, to play in a neutral site, the team that plays their Regional Final in Bangor will almost always get ridiculous travel requirements. For every Old Town or Orono, there’s 5 or 6 teams like Central Aroostook or Machias.

Expo

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you could play more games at the Expo. There’s a certain romantic angle to playing the State Game in the state’s biggest city. You can go to the Old Port! If you played the entirety of the A and B South regions in the Expo, you could preserve the neutral floor angle. This would obviously make the most sense for Class A. Since both AA regions play at the Cross Insurance Arena, you don’t have to worry about them. This is the one part of the AA tournament that actually makes sense.

The Stax Proposal

I kind of like this.

I’m a big advocate of the MPA making the schedule more flexible in regards to the actual teams. I’d like the quarterfinals to be shuffled so that the teams that drive the furthest don’t have to play the first or last game of the day. You could easily announce the tourney sites on Sunday. That wouldn’t be hard.

Cape vs. Caribou

This game should obviously be played in Augusta. We all realize that, right? The girls game between MDI and GNG? That should also be played in Augusta. This isn’t complicated.

My Fix

Assuming there’s no logistical issues I’m not thinking of, here’s what I think you do:

AA: Short of revamping the entire tournament, which they obviously should do because it is currently a farce, stay in Portland.

A: Keep the A South Regional in the Expo (but spend some of that $325K you collect in member fees each year to get the scoreboard and wifi working first.) Play the State Game at the Cross Insurance Area.

B: Augusta. This is a no-brainer.

C & D: Minus a 4th site, I think you rotate these between Bangor and Augusta, depending on the teams playing. If it’s Fort Kent vs. Buckfield, play it in Bangor. If it’s OOB vs. GSA, play it in Augusta.

This makes the game and travel as fair as one could reasonably expect, given Maine’s limitations. Then we can work on organizing a coup to install Don Shields as the voice of the Gold Ball games on MPBN.

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