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The oddity of regional Saturdays

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

There’s a lot of emotions that run through the minds of players ahead of a contest like Saturday’s regional final. Excitement. Anxiety. Optimism.

And, especially for Wabash last Saturday, tiredness.

On my drive Saturday morning to Lapel, it occurred to me how weird the idea of regional Saturdays are compared to the entirety of the regular season and much of the postseason. One time in the entirety of the year, teams are asked to win two games in one day and it comes in the middle of the state tournament.

There’s a pomp and circumstance in regional Saturdays. Fans file into the gymnasiums early in the morning with the same sort of excitement, anxiety and optimism apparent in the players. It creates for fun environments and memorable days, but it’s not reason enough for there to be two games in one day.

Save for very few exceptions, the regular season sees varsity players play games somewhere ranging between 7 and 8 p.m. Bodies are trained to be ready to perform at their best at night starting in November. A county tournament, one-day showcase or mid-afternoon match-up may come up during the season but those are the exceptions. Even the sectional is played out in the same format. At most, the games start at 6 p.m.

Why then, in one of the biggest weekends of the year during the state tournament, is everything thrown out of whack? Games are played at 10 a.m. and noon on Saturday for regionals, eight to 10 hours earlier than what bodies have been programmed to do. Is it not odd that was decided to be the case?

I posed that question on Twitter on Saturday afternoon and was met with comments of agreement and disagreement. There were two most common responses as to why it wasn’t an issue.

First, the most common response went something along the lines of “Good teams should be able to win no matter the time of the game.” That’s a fair argument. If you’re a truly talented team, you should be able to overcome adversity presented to you.

But why create adversity that doesn’t need to exist? Why pull kids out of bed on a Saturday morning, put them on a bus and tell them “If you’re a good team, you’ll win.”

As athletes have become more self-aware of their training and honing their craft, the importance of a regular routine has come up. There have been numerous studies done to look into the matter. The conclusions are nearly unanimous no matter the study you look at.

The best athletes go through the same routine, keeping the body on the same internal clock and, thus, preparing the body to be ready to perform at the same time.

Most high school athletes aren’t aware they’re doing this or don’t manipulate their schedulasike professional athletes do in order to maximize their body’s performance, but they are putting themselves on an internal clock whether they know it or not. Five months of preparation, then, is tossed out the window the second weekend of March.

And for the select few that make it to the state tournament, it’s done again. Take Southwood’s boys’ basketball team for example. The Class A state final game last year tipped off 10:30 a.m. last season. If you want to talk about ruining regular schedules, imagine waking up in a hotel bed in a different city at an abnormal hour to play in the possibly the biggest game of your life. And for what?

Which brings us to the second most common retort I received which was “That’s how it’s always been.” Certainly, that’s not much of an argument for not changing it. If we didn’t change things because “that’s how it’s always been,” then we’d still be having a jump ball after every made basket and dribbling wouldn’t be allowed, both among the original rules of basketball.

The point of changing those rules was to improve the game. Imagine being the man or woman that changed the original rules of basketball. And yet, it worked out for the better.

There’s no reason this couldn’t be the case for regional Saturdays and the changes wouldn’t even need to be drastic. Simply change it to a Friday/Saturday format, hosting the two regional openers on Friday night with the winners to meet on Saturday. It’s the same format used in the sectional and offers no change logistically. The money schools would spend on sending a team back on Saturday is offset but the money programs must spend on hotel rooms for athletes to waste time in between games on Saturdays.

It’d offer teams a chance at a regular schedule and, in theory, setting up potentially better games. Fans are already charged for two sessions during the current regional set-up so, from a financial standpoint, nothing would change for the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), which would be their biggest focus. All your losing is a bit of that pomp and circumstance in order to put kids, coaches and teams into more comfortable situations.

Regional Saturdays are fun from a distance as spectators. But for those involved in the game first-hand, it’s an area of disconnect between the programs and the IHSAA where one side is doing what’s best for itself at the cost of the ones they’re putting in those positions.