The Meridian Star
The cool breeze of late October slips into early November just about the same time high school sports begin to heat up in Lauderdale County and surrounding areas. Friday night, the playoff races make their way toward the final stretch run as teams not only fight for playoff berths but the all-important seedings as well. On Saturday, three area slow-pitch softball teams, Neshoba Central, Newton County and Choctaw Central, will all make the trip to Ridgeland in an attempt to bring home state-title glory for their schools.
With so much drama and excitement, the fall season is pretty hard to mess up. That being said, the Mississippi High School Activities Association has been doing a pretty good job of it.
It's been said 1000 times, and 1001 probably won't make a difference. But, here goes one more. The MHSAA playoff system needs some serious work. Ask almost any fan, coach, player or sports writer around the state and they will undoubtedly roll their eyes when discussing the MHSAA's hosting policy in the playoffs.
For those unfamiliar with the format, the team with the higher (better) seeding is awarded a home playoff game in the first round — like they should be. However, in an attempt to divvy out an equal amount of hosting time, teams that did not host in the first round are given home series in the second round. For example, if a No. 1 seed hosted a No.4 seed in the first round, they would then have to travel on the road in the second round — a more important game — to take on a No. 3 team because that team had not yet hosted a game.
The rule has reared its ugly head the last two years in the 3A South State Championship for slow-pitch as the lower-seeded team has played host with a trip to the state championship on the line. In 2012, Southeast Lauderdale finished first in District 5-3A but traveled to Choctaw Central, while this year the District 5-3A champion Warriors were forced to play the Tigers on the road. In both instances, the district winner came away victorious, but what if they hadn't? How do you explain to a player that everything he or she fought for in the regular season is virtually meaningless in the playoffs.
In fact, it could be argued that being the higher rated team can even be a hindrance. Take football for example — a sport where home-field advantage is crucial. Currently, the Meridian Wildcats are positioned to finish fourth in Region 3-6A. If the playoffs started today, the Wildcats would travel down to the coast to take on Gulfport. If the 'Cats were able to pull an upset over the Admirals, they would most likely host No. 1 seeded Oak Grove in the second round.
While head coach Larry Weems and the Wildcats would more than welcome another shot at the Warriors at home, it'd be a tough draw for Coach Nevill Barr and Oak Grove to have to make a return trip to Ray Stadium, especially if the Warriors finish atop the 3-6A standings having already beaten Meridian 38-10 on the road.
But, by now both coaches are used to it — that's just life under the MHSAA. Home-field advantage should go to the higher ranked seed no matter what. I know it, you know it, heck, the MHSAA probably knows it.
But, will there be a change? If history is any indication, don't count on it.