Coaches mull pros and cons behind switching season dates for boys and girls basketball

Crossroads’s Britton Angell (with ball) and his teammates started practices on Monday, a week earlier than usual this season due to a change in dates with girls basketball. (Pioneer photo/John Raffel)

BIG RAPIDS — A week later or a week earlier may not seem to be a big deal in high school sports.

But boys and girls basketball coaches are working with the change in starting practice dates and the tipoff to the regular season. The changes seem to have their pros and cons, depending on which sports you’re coaching.

Boys practices started on Monday and the girls basketball teams start net Monday. It’s a flipflop from how it’s been since the girls came to the winter season more than 10 years ago.

The boys season tips off the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend. The girls are the week after. The state finals for boys are March 16 and for girls on March 23. Both are flip-flops from what it’s been.

The reason for the change deals with insuring the availability with Michigan State University’s Breslin Center for the boys finals. The girls are set with their current venue at Calvin College.

The Breslin Center cannot be guaranteed to be available for boys on what was their regular weekend for the state final. MSU and other state Division 1 schools want to make sure their venue is available this weekend in case the schools hosted an NCAA women’s regional.

Breslin would not be available, for that season, for the boys on March 23 which was why the MHSAA voted to have the boys season start and end first.

Whether or not this will continue in future years is not known.

Most coaches don’t feel it’s a major deal;. Others point to the overlap with fall seasons as being a challenge. A boys basketball team with some players on the football squad could be restricted from coming to hoop practices if the grid team has a longer postseason.

But there was the same concern for girls. A year ago, less than a week after girls would end volleyball district, they would tip off the basketball practice season. There’s a whole additional week off this season because of the change.

It depends, also, on the length of a postseason. In 2011, Morley Stanwood’s girls won the volleyball title the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. The girls basketball season tipped off less than 10 days later and there were several of the same players for the Mohawks on both teams. The basketball team, with many of the same girls, went on to with the state title.

Reed City boys basketball team would face a challenge if the Coyotes football squad plays at Ford Field on Nov. 24 in the state title game. It leaves hardly any practice time for any football player on the basketball team, whose season tips off at home with Evart on Nov. 27.

One possible plus to starting the season earlier is having more games prior to the two-week holiday break.

Big Rapids boys coach Kent Ingles isn’t sure if this is or isn’t an advantage.

“There’s less healing time after football for those who played football and just plain no time off to be a kid,” Ingles said. “Because of the two-week MHSSA preseason dead period, players have zero time to get hoop acclimated.

“But it is good to have more full court gym time before doubling up with the girls program.”

“It allows me to complete coaching our seventh grade girls and give both teams my complete focus,” Chippewa Hills girls varsity coach DJ Newman said. “It also allows the girls to have a mental break if they played a fall sport before diving right in.”

“The different time frame doesn’t affect us,” Evart girls coach Paul Higgins said. “You still have the same amount of time as if you started a week earlier. The only benefit is that you aren’t starting the week after the Thanksgiving holiday and have a solid week leading into the first week of games.”

“Personally, the switch in practice start times doesn’t matter to me,” Pine River boys coach Brandon Bowman said. “We are just excited to start the season. I don’t feel that starting a week later this year makes any difference for the girls.”

Lenny Starck is coaching Chippewa Hills’ boys this winter. He has coached girls in recent years.

“Makes no difference,” he said. “What it does it make it more fair for the girls. Volleyball ended last week for most schools. The girls will now get a full week off. In the past, they had next to no time off. Boys football would be done for a couple of weeks before basketball would start. Now the time off is closer to being even.”

Pine River boys coach Brian Goodenow saw the Bucks football team go to the semifinals two years ago and it caused some overlap. The Bucks made the football playoff this year, but lost in the first round.

“It’s a minor adjustment,” Goodenow said. “Nine of my guys were on the football team, and because they lost in the first round of the playoffs, we are ready to go. The athletes and coaches were chomping at the bit to begin, so it gets us in the gym a week earlier than normal.”

“I guess having our first game the Tuesday after Thanksgiving Break is a minus in my mind as our practice schedule is interrupted by the long holiday weekend,” Morley Stanwood boys coach Bob Raven said. “Also we have eight games before Christmas Break and that is different from the usual three or four. I feel we need to be ready for more conference contests before that break as opposed to maybe one or two in the past schedules.”

Julian Castillo, Crossroads boys basketball coach, agreed the earlier start for boys will have some challenges.

“That’s tough,” Castillo said. “Especially for teams still in the playoffs. I just finished up (football) at Howard City. We made the playoffs at 5-4. We lost the first (playoff game. Had we won it makes it tough for coaches and players to get the (basketball) season going.”

Morley Stanwood’s volleyball team had a shorter than usual stay in the postseason with a first-match loss.

“I honestly don’t have an opinion (on the change), I’m just ready to get into the season with the ladies,” MS girls hoops coach Rob Brauher said. “With the unfortunate loss in districts for MS volleyball, it has allowed the girls some extra time to get rested and start healing some of the injuries that a few of the basketball girls are experiencing. In previous years, they would have no down time.”

Reed City coaches JJ Eads for the boys and Brian Koopman for the girls have contrasting views on the change. Eads was Crossroads girls coach for many years before going to Reed City and taking the boys job during the 2016-17 season. In each of Eads first three seasons, the football team has played deep into the playoffs. He’s obviously elated the football squad is doing well. But possibly starting the season with most of his team having only a day or two of practice causes Eads some concern.

“I dislike it very much, not fair to schools with a great football program,” he said. “It doesn’t give boys a break after a long season. There’s no break for athletes and lack of preparation time compared to other schools is a major disadvantage.

“It would be nice if the MHSAA would look for other alternatives such as other venues in the state that could host finals. All that being said, if we didn’t have a successful football program it wouldn’t be an issue.”

As for the Reed City girls, “I think it’s kind of good for us this year,” Koopman said. “We have to get work done on some skill and get ready for the season. This year, we have that whole week after Thanksgiving to get in another week of practice. For us, I think it’s a huge benefit. I really like it. That extra week will be huge for us this year.”

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Posted by John Raffel

John is a sports reporter with the Pioneer as well as the Herald Review and The Lake County Star. He also coordinates the weekly Pioneer sports outdoors page. He can be reached at (231) 592-8356 or by email at jraffel@pioneergroup.com.

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