Lindenstein: Basketball scheduling proposal creates as many issues as it solves

Count yours truly among the camp that’s always felt spring high school sports in Colorado get the short end of the stick.

Not only are they allowed some of the shortest playing seasons. But they also often endure brutal March (and sometimes April) weather. And some spring coaches don’t even get all of their athletes until the third week of the regular season because basketball runs so late.

The weather, though, isn’t going anywhere. And, unless schools are willing to extend the spring season well into June (an idea fully supported here), the length of the season isn’t likely changing any time soon either.

That’s what makes paring down or condensing basketball season such an enticing prospect — and one that would lend some equity to spring sports like baseball, lacrosse, track and field and soccer, among others.

Not counting preseason or the holiday break, basketball’s regular season and postseason will last 15 weeks for the 2012-13 campaign. Not even football (14 weeks) with its four-week postseason can match that. So, yeah, trimming a couple of games off the regular season or letting basketball teams play holiday tournaments in the, say, Dec. 28-Jan. 2 range seems reasonable to help alleviate some of the overlap with spring sports.

But that doesn’t mean the proposal being brought forth by the Northern and Tri-Valley Leagues to next week’s Colorado High School Activities Association’s legislative council meeting is the right move at the right time. Those two conferences, which include several local teams, are advocating for the regular season in Class 4A and 5A basketball to be reduced from 23 games to 19.

The idea is one that makes basketball coaches cringe, but one that some athletic directors would like to see come to fruition. In addition to the overlap with spring sports, the reasoning centers largely on budgetary and scheduling aspects.

While varsity teams in 4A and 5A are allowed 23 games since they don’t have district tournaments like lower levels, junior varsity squads are restricted to 19 games regardless of classification. That causes headaches for A.D.s when they’re trying to schedule non-league games with other schools that may or may not also need a JV game.

Budget-wise, schools could save money on travel costs as well as the cost of hosting games in an age where school districts are increasingly strapped for cash.

“We’re constantly being bombarded on travel and budgets,” said Longmont athletic director Andrea Tribelhorn, a former coach who understands why coaches don’t want to cut games but who is also in support of the proposal.

But here’s the thing: Basketball home games are money makers for many schools, and the extent of the scheduling headaches varies depending on the size of different conferences and the location of schools.

There’s also no guarantee that the overlap with spring would be reduced. CHSAA rules state that classifications that play 23 games are not allowed to have district tournaments. But knock the season down to 19 games, and 4A and 5A would be free to add another level of postseason play, likely wiping out any benefit derived from eliminating regular season games when it comes to spring sports’ perspective.

And even if basketball season did end a week or two sooner, there would be unforeseen circumstances that aren’t addressed by the Northern and Tri-Valley League’s proposal.

You want a scheduling headache? Try moving the 4A and 5A basketball final fours off of their current weekend in mid-March. That’s when the Colorado Buffaloes, whose Coors Events Center has hosted the 4A and 5A tourneys the past several years, are guaranteed to be away playing in their conference tournaments. Ditto for Colorado State, site of the 3A state tournament.

The chances of CHSAA landing those venues any earlier on the calendar are suspect at best given the Buffs’ and Rams’ schedules. The Denver Coliseum could possibly pick up some, but not likely all, of the slack. And 2A, also currently at a college site, would potentially have to lock down a new venue as well.

There is also the issue of equity.

Volleyball just last fall increased its regular season from 19 to 23 games. Softball could make a similar move at the legislative council meeting and, if softball does so, don’t think baseball will be far behind. So how is it fair to reduce the number of basketball games played while at the same time increasing it for other sports?

“We worked pretty hard to get to 23, and I think that’s a fair number and a good number,” said Frank Lee, who doubles as Fairview’s boys basketball coach and athletic director.

Taking playing opportunities away, after all, is one thing no CHSAA official, athletic director or coach should be in favor of, regardless of the sport.

Yes, spring sports get a raw deal by the basketball overlap, and the Northern and Tri-Valley proposal might get the discussion of fixing that kink started. But the proposal in its current form leaves far too many unanswered questions and potential pitfalls itself.

Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshLindenstein