Extending The Spring Season Has Two Sides



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By: Bruce Hefflinger and Dylan Hefflinger
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Ohio Insider: Extending The Spring Season Has Two Sides

Surveys and tabled votes have surrounded the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association proposal to extend the season two weeks.

But finally - after being discussed in June and then tabled twice - the Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors took a vote at the September meeting. To the dismay of many coaches in the state, the proposal was turned down by a 7-2 vote.

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*****WORDING FROM THE OHSAA ON DECISION*****

"By a 7-2 vote, the board denied a proposal from the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association to extend the season two weeks due to the new NFHS-mandated pitch count regulations."

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"It was a proposal that was discussed a lot," noted Tim Stried, the OHSAA Director of Communications. "Based on the fact that a majority of school administrators were not in favor of the data certainly was taken to heart by the Board of Directors"

Brad Ganor

For some coaches, like St. Ignatius mentor Brad Ganor, the decision did not sit well.

"I'm disappointed it was turned down," Ganor said. "I was 100 percent in favor of extending the season. Compared to other states, our playing days are far less and we play the same number of games"

The newly established pitch-count rule, which went into effect during the spring of 2017, left many coaches wanting a change in the length of the season. Hence, the OHSBCA proposal to play two more weeks into mid-June.

"For the most part I thought everyone did a good job with the new pitch count," Columbus Watterson head coach Scott Manahan said. "In reality, what we were trying to do here with the proposal was something good for Ohio baseball. This would allow those that were on a pitch count to get more innings. I just don’t know why it was voted down. It was surprising to all of us (coaches)"

THE SURVEY

In addressing the proposal, OHSAA Assistant Commissioner Jerry Snodgrass sent out a survey to four groups: superintendents, principals, athletic directors and coaches.

"We got a really good response from the four groups" Stried noted.

School Position
# Responded
% Responded
% In Favor
% Against
Superintendents
278/674 41.2% 42% 58%
Principals
297/821 36.1% 44%
56%
Athletic Directors
676/821 82.3% 56% 44%
Coaches 637/772 82.5% 74% 26%
Total 1,888/3,088 61.1% 54% 46%

The two groups that responded to the survey most were both in favor of the proposal, As expected, coaches were heavily in favor with 74 percent of 637 responding wanting to extend the season. Athletic directors, which had the most surveys returned with 676, were in favor by a 56-44 percent margin.

Superintendents and principals - with far fewer responding to the survey - were the two groups opposed to an extended season. Of 297 returned surveys, principals were against 56-44 percent. Superintendent numbers were similar, with 58 percent out of 278 responding opposed to the proposal.

"I think the Baseball Coaches Association did a good job of explaining the rationale," Stried said. "I think the board could see merit in the proposal"

But not enough to pass it.

"They have every right to make the decision," Snodgrass said of the board’s vote. "These are board members representing member schools and they had some concerns. It wasn't about making a decision against baseball. For one thing, when moving a tournament you have to be guaranteed a tournament site in those weeks and right now we aren't"

Huntington Park has been home to the state baseball tournament since 2009 and will be again this school year and also in 2019 when the proposal to extend the season was scheduled to begin.

"There are so many what-ifs when scheduling minor league facilities," Snodgrass said. "I made the request but Huntington Park has not confirmed it is or is not available"

THE VOTE

Many thought the proposal would go through. After all, out of the 1,888 surveys returned overall, 58 percent (nearly 1,100) were in favor. But just like can happen in the general election with the electoral college, a majority is not always enough.

"Only from a standpoint that I really didn't know, I thought it might pass 5-4," Snodgrass said. "I really didn't have an inkling one way or the other"

Would the proposal, while solving some problems, create others questioned Stried.

"It's not a bad idea at all, but pushing the season back to mid-June could lead to more issues than it will solve," Stried said.

Bob Britton, superintendent at Ridgedale, was one of the seven board members to vote against the proposal.

"Most of the superintendents that I talked to were like 60-40 against," Britton explained. "A lot has to do with end-of-the-year activities. Another thing is can we even have Huntington Park and if not is any other site available? That's why I was against it"

Board president Paul Powers, the athletic director at Aurora, was another board member voting no to the proposal.

"A lot of factors go into it, not just the length of the season," Powers noted. "The biggest issue to me is a lot of schools are out early. How does that factor in? I don't mind it as an administrator, but you have three weeks with a ballclub to run after school is out"

The fear for some is graduation having an impact while so many teams are still remaining in the tournament as opposed to the current set up.

"If you push the season back two weeks, district tournaments are over Memorial Day and that conflicts with graduation," Stried pointed out.

Powers echoed the concern.

"If you start the tournament later, proms are interrupted and awards nights are interrupted," Powers said. "It’s not just one thing, but a multiple number of things that go into it"

Not everyone agrees with the worries about graduation and conflicts with other school-related activities.

Tom Held

"The excuse of graduation conflicts has been going on for 50 years," Defiance head baseball coach Tom Held said. "If you move back state you wouldn't have conflicts any more than you do now.

"The easy solution to all that is to play tournaments during the week and use the weekend only if needed due to the weather"

That is something done in the Central District according to Manahan.

"Interfere with graduation?" the veteran coach of Watterson asked. "I haven't played a district final on Saturday in years unless it was because of rain"

Kevin Katafias, of Genoa, was one of the two board members in favor of the proposal.

"I voted for it just because I think it's good for baseball," Katafias said. "For one, it gets baseball closer to having a true postseason tournament per se. For another, some coaches have struggled with the new pitch-count rule and I thought this would help"

Joe Roberts, athletic director at Lexington, was the other board member voting yes.

"What I saw we could do by extending the playing dates was to have an actual postseason," Roberts said. "You could actually cut off the regular season and then have a postseason. I think there’s merit to it, but I don't know if we'll ever get to that"

So why the vote against by other board members?

"A lot of factors play into it," Roberts reasoned about why the proposal was turned down. "The calendar and number of days people are out of school have to be taken into consideration from across the board. Schools want to graduate Memorial Day weekend but then you're looking at three weeks you're still participating in baseball. That all comes into play"

PITCH COUNT

A big reason for the proposal is the new pitch count rule that was put into action this past season.

The good? Protecting the arms of high school pitchers.

The bad? Top pitchers on teams are less available while more pitchers, some not ready to throw at the varsity level, are now needed.

"This would allow teams to be more conscious about the number of pitches," Ganor said about the proposal. "Smaller schools are playing multiple conference games each week. They have guys playing catcher and shortstop throwing the next day. It's taxing on the arms. By extending the season it would allow games to be spread out. It would also allow teams from making the decision what's more important league games or the tournament.

"It's a shame the OHSAA doesn't see it that way," Ganor continued. "I know Jerry Snodgrass put in a lot of work on this and we respect that. It just seems to be a proposal that creates a dramatic change to an institution that doesn't see dramatic changes"

Mike WissSome coaches, like Mike Wiss of Minster, are not as certain the pitch count rule has a bad side.

"There is more to pitching than throwing your number one and number two pitchers two times a week," Wiss said. "Mine only pitch once a week through April. That's called developing a staff"

But few would argue the fact if the season was extended that coaches would have a much better ability to use their staff in a more manageable way that is better for pitchers and the team.

Play fewer games with the current set-up is one suggestion.

"I heard a lot of schools are doing away with 27 games and not doing doubleheaders on weekends," Roberts said. "There is value in saying a coach can look at his roster and the season and if you can't play 27 games that's the right move"

Some, according to Britton, are dropping to 22 games to avoid not having a junior varsity team.

"In conversations I've had with ADs and coaches, they're making adjustments," Britton explained.

But is less really better for a sport that already struggles to play a full amount of games due to weather issues during the season and rescheduled games come tournament time?

BASEBALL IN JUNE

Concerns about "graduated players" still involved in school activities is a non-factor in the eyes of most coaches.

"What are these kids doing when they’re not on your watch?" asked Wiss, who led Minster to the Division IV state championship this past season. "Put the kids into regionals or state and you'll have their attention"

Kyle ReiserElmwood head coach Kyle Reiser agreed.

"If a team makes it to regional or state, kids are not going to be a problem," Reiser said. "If the team is rolling, nobody is going to want to let their teammates down. When you're on a roll it’s a lot of fun"

Manahan was adamant about the need to extend the season.

"A lot of administrators want school to be done," Manahan said. "From a coach's point of view, if you have two more weeks to play in the summer, that means you're doing well in the tournament and it brings a great deal of excitement to the school"

Adding to the issue are the number of days allotted to baseball in Ohio. A timeframe of just 41 days does not sit well with all the coaches.

"Trying to manage 27 games in 41 days, and that’s counting Sundays, is tough - especially for the smaller schools with fewer pitchers," Ganor said. "I's okay at Moeller and St. Ignatius but not at smaller schools. If this is truly about the kids, we need to do what’s in the best interest for them"

A late start to the season can also be a hindrance.

"If basketball season gets drawn out you can get your season started (late) and before you know it you have tournament games," noted Manahan, who has seen Watterson reach the Division II state finals two of the past five years in basketball.

Both Michigan and Indiana extend their high school baseball seasons into the summer with little resistance.

"Why do bordering states have longer seasons? It works for them," Manahan proclaimed. "Administrators in Ohio just want to shut it down"

OTHER CONCERNS

Scott ManahanTrying to get in the allotted number of games in such a short period leaves less time for helping players improve.

"I want to practice," Manahan said. "When do you practice? Looking at our schedule we only have one or two days a week to practice. We don't have time to do it.

"I thought this was about teaching the game to high school kids and working on fundamentals. They've taken that away.

"Now it really becomes who has the best players," Manahan continued. "You don't have time to mold them"

Extending the season would not affect just baseball, however. Basketball camps and 7-on-7 football would be interrupted.

"Who cares?" Manahan responded to that thought process. "They already have the longest seasons in the world. What do we do? April and May, go as fast as you can and get it over with"

But not all coaches agree.

"If you add two weeks to the season, for somebody in our area - whoever goes to state - it takes away half of their ACME summer season," Wiss said.

Not a big deal, though, to some.

"I haven't heard a lot of summer coaches complaining," Manahan said.

But with the proposal a failure at this time, summer baseball is not changing anytime soon.

"My advice for high school coaches is to get in good with summer coaches because they’re the ones that get to do the coaching," Manahan said.

Taking away part of the summer is a concern for some coaches in other sports.

"There is also Mike Wiss the basketball coach," pointed out Wiss, who doubles as not only the varsity baseball coach but also the boys basketball mentor at Minster. "Usually basketball is played the month of June and when July comes around basketball is done. That's putting basketball coaches into a two-week window if their (baseball) team goes to Columbus.

"Around here most of the kids play baseball and basketball. As a small school that’s been here a long time, you have to consider how does this affect everyone. I’m not in it just for baseball"

Wiss, who said: "I can't say I'm totally for it but don't know I'm totally against it" in regards to the proposal, had more summer worries.

"Some schools give one or two dead weeks during the summer," Wiss said, meaning no extra-curricular activities in a specified time frame. "How would this affect that? Our dead week is over the Fourth of July. Around here multiple schools have two weeks. That would affect basketball even more"

RULING EFFECTS

One major outcome from the ruling is the potential loss of junior varsity or freshman baseball teams. Elmwood is one example.

"I was part of the committee that dealt with pitch counts," Elmwood mentor Reiser said. "There are advantages to it if you lengthen the season, but if not you have to use guys that shouldn't be pitching in certain situations. Bigger schools can expand their rosters, they have the kids, but coming from a small school we have very limited resources.

"We'll have to carry more pitchers or everybody must pitch ... and everybody can’t pitch. So we'll have to use younger pitchers that can throw strikes. So now you have kids that you would rather have playing JV ball on your varsity team as pitchers only. Therefore, you may not have a JV team. We're not going to just run somebody out there to pitch on the JVs, that's a tough thing to handle"

Had the proposal passed, programs like Elmwood would have benefited.

"Right now we're playing three league games during the week and a non-league game on Saturday so that's four in six days," Reiser explained about the current schedule set-up at his school. "If we expand the season maybe we can go with two conference games a week and not have to rely on the younger pitchers.

"The way it is now, we can't bring them along slowly and make sure they're ready for varsity"

Reiser, entering his 31st year as head coach, is uncertain if this is the year his program might be without a JV team.

"We've talked about it, a lot depends on numbers," Reiser said. "We're not going to just run kids out there that are not ready and embarrass them. I don't know if this is long term for us or not. You go in cycles and one year we might be able to make it happen and have a JV team. But if we have to expand the varsity roster and give younger kids time, that would take away from getting game experience. That wouldn't be the best case scenario.

"I coached in Indiana and they had an expanded season and Michigan does it. I don't see the problem. I don't see why we can't model what they are doing and pull it off"

Still, bigger programs could be affected by the vote - even state powers.

"We're going to struggle to put three teams out there next year," Held said in reference to a junior varsity and freshman team, something that has been vital in helping Defiance produce three Division II state championships in the past five years. "This past summer our pitchers hit the wall because we put them to the limit. We were pulling guys at 74 pitches so we can bring them back in two days. That's tough. I don't think we'll do it again. This pitch-count issue goes to the length of the season. The two things don't go together"

Not to be forgotten, umpires are needed and that is a concern according to Roberts.

"If you have the softball tournament at the same time as the baseball regular season you have so many umpires to deal with and the numbers are decreasing," Roberts noted. "It's one big circle. I don't think it's a bad idea, as an AD I value it"

So NOW WHAT?

So what happens next? Will the proposal be brought to the board again and if so what changes will be made in an effort to extend the season?

For starters, understanding why it failed is needed.

"We're confused," Held said in reference to coaches in favor of the proposal. "We have not been given any reasons. Why wouldn't you pass it? We're not saying it's a wrong decision, we just don't understand the decision. Coaches want a reason why and maybe we can negotiate with them"

Snodgrass gave his view on the decision.

"This is only an opinion, I didn't ask in the survey, but the concerns on the administration side were ... one, sectional and district getting into graduation, and two, concerns by administration with school ending earlier across the state leaving more schools involved with baseball when school is not is session"

Snodgrass also pointed out that this is not the first time the OHSAA has dealt with an association attempting to make changes.

"For quite a few years the basketball association wanted 22 (regular season) games," Snodgrass explained. "They were turned down and decided to create war with it. It was the OHSAA vs. them. I know there was dialogue between them (coaches) to go after them (OHSAA) and that was not the answer.

"Six or seven years later it passed, though nothing was done different except they kept asking";
His advice to the coaches?

"Don't go crazy with it," Snodgrass said. "When we listen to coaches associations sometimes being told no creates political war between groups. I don't think that is necessary. It takes time. It's a culture change.

"Not that I do or don't support this, but there is youth and summer baseball, real stuff out there. You can't just instantly change the culture around. Whether I like it or not, look what’s been created with summer football and basketball. Those are real factors in all of this."

So, should changes be made to the proposal?

"Truthfully, I'd be more in favor of extending the season one week more than two weeks," Katafias said. "But I don't see it coming back soon the way the voting went. The Coaches Association will have to meet and get input from members if there's a better way to do it and I don't think it will happen anytime soon"

Powers is uncertain any tweaks in the proposal will change the results.

"I understand where they're coming from," said Powers, who admitted, while voting no, to being 50-50 on the proposal. "But at the end of the day you have to look at what's best for the member schools"
However, Britton feels this is just the beginning.

"This is my first year on the board and I’d like to have more discussion," Britton said. "But this is a great starting point. Jerry did a great job and we had some good feedback. This will probably be addressed again That is something many coaches expect.

"I don't think we'll let it end," Manahan said in reference to the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association. "Maybe we'll look at an extension of one week"

That is something Wiss approves.

"I've talked to several in our league (Midwest Athletic Conference) and they would much rather see one week than two weeks," the Minster head coach said about an extended season. "For our purposes, I'd like to see a few more games if we add two weeks to the season, but a one-week extension might be a better way to start"

Katafias likes the idea of one week as well.

"I voted for it just because I thought it was good for baseball, but truthfully, I'd be more in favor of one week than two weeks," the OHSAA board member from Genoa said.

That could be a step in the right direction.

"By having a pitch count and a short season it hurts the quality of high school baseball," Held said. "The two don't go together. While two weeks is best, I would guess that we as coaches would take one week.

"All we want is what's best for the kids and for the quality of the game"

Fall (Football) vs Winter (Basketball) vs Spring (Baseball)

Here is a comparison between sports in the fall, winter and spring in terms on days.

Sport # Regular
Season Days
# Regular Season
+ Tournament
Football
78 113
Basketball
82 115
Baseball
43 78

 

Ohio vs Michigan

Here is a look at the difference between Ohio and Michigan for the amount of days for the spring high school baseball season in terms of days.  

Name # Regular
Season Days
# Regular Season
+ Tournament
Ohio
43 78
Michigan
79 97

 

Positives vs Negatives

Here is a quick glance at some of the positives and negatives for and against the extension of the spring season. Throughout the article you can read more in-depth as to why these are positives and negatives. Feel free to make your own opinion.

Positives Negatives
Player safety - Further help the
pitch count rule for the athletes
State Final Four site negotiations
More practice time allowing for
better team camaraderie
Being out of school but still playing sport
(how is this different from summer sports?)
Player Development - More kids
can play the sport since smaller
schools won't have to cut
Freshman/JV team
Conflicts with graduation and other school activities
No need to cut games in order
to be able to have JV/Fresh team
Number of umpires available - A concern when
baseball regular season and softball tournament
would be going on
Similar days of play as other OHSAA
sports as well as similar length of
season as bordering states for baseball
Summer basketball and football conflicts