Tramel: Show a little grace to the OSSAA when state basketball playoffs begin in February
High school basketball needs a favor. Not coaches. Not players. Not administrators. Not referees. Not fans.
The sport itself needs a favor. It needs everyone to show a little grace as the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association tries to launch the state playoffs in February and conclude them in March.
We didn’t get completion last March, at least for classes 2A through 6A. And that stunk, we can all agree.
So to finish this March, and hand out gold balls to 14 teams, we all need to work together.
“The expectation would be that people would show some grace,” said OSSAA executive director David Jackson. “But there are a good number of people that want what they want.”
Those people won’t like some of the changes to the state playoffs. Jackson and his staff are working tirelessly to stage the tournaments in this pandemic-stricken year, and while details haven’t been finalized, several changes are possible or likely.
Masks mandatory for fans in gymnasiums.
Social distancing required.
Gyms capped at 50 percent capacity.
Game times in regional and area tournaments spread out, likely with gyms cleared after every game, so that fan bases from four schools don’t congregate at one particular time.
“We feel like we’re going to have to do those things, because of what the health people tell us,” Jackson said. “Being inside, it’s easier to spread the virus that way.”
State tournaments might begin on Tuesday, not Thursday, so that every game could be played at one site instead of using satellite venues for first-round games. That’s actually a grand idea anyway, since it allows every state-tournament team to play in State Fair Arena or Tulsa’s Mabee Center.
“Some of the changes we’re making, we’re not happy to make,” Jackson said. “We’re not talking about making them on a long-term basis. We’re talking about having our kids having their activities, and do it as safely as possible.”
You would think everyone would understand. But not necessarily.
“Trust me, after having gone through the fall season and football, it is not that way,” Jackson said.
OSSAA basketball headaches are many in a normal year. Organizing the early rounds all over the state, using school facilities with school personnel but with association oversight, never is easy. Now add in the COVID protocols and issues, and it’s a thankless task.
For instance, many schools don’t want to host tournament games this year. Some don’t want to adhere to the regulations. Some don’t want to deal with the complaints if they do adhere.
Some colleges and universities have hosted in the past, but their facilities are largely closed because of the pandemic and rightfully can’t justify opening for high school events while remaining shuttered to their own students.
So it’s a patchwork assignment for Jackson and his crew.
“Some of the host venues can (usually) be people who earned the right to host, but they may have a very small gym,” Jackson said. “Or they haven’t been wearing masks, don’t want to wear masks, issues like that. Because of those factors, because they are our playoffs, we’re going to have to impose some minimum standards.”
The Millwood-Community Christian School flap last Friday highlights the cultural differences that can be found between schools. Urban/rural. Large/small. Public/private. Millwood has been steadfast in following health department guidelines and recommendations. CCS has admittedly has not followed them much at all.
But everyone comes together for the playoffs, and someone has to be in charge. That someone is the OSSAA, with a staff hired by a board of directors from the member schools. So the OSSAA is the schools.
And that’s why grace would go a long way. You don’t have to like the protocols, thinking they are going too far or not far enough. But please take a deep breath and remember that decision-makers are doing the best they can.
The state basketball playoffs are not a political event. They are not a cultural reckoning. They are not a referendum on way of life. At their core, they are about giving high school kids a chance at some cool experiences, perhaps even leading to a state tournament.
“I’m not looking for any sympathy,” Jackson said. “But it makes our job challenging. Our conversations pretty much center around, let’s make sure we can have the activity. We don’t want to ever again not allow these kids to not have their activities. We’ve got to do this safely.
“COVID numbers looking like they do, we have got to put some things in place, to make sure we’re at least doing all we can to keep people safe, to where at least reasonable people would understand and cooperate with us.”
That’s the key. Let’s be reasonable. Let’s cooperate. Let’s all understand there are no good options when it comes to this blasted virus. Just some options better than others.
The OSSAA is just trying to get the games staged. Let’s all pull together so thousands of kids can make memories and 14 teams can win a gold ball.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.