Column: Spain Park playoff decision shines light on another change needed for AHSAA

Published 11:05 am Thursday, April 25, 2024

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As the baseball playoffs get underway, it’s a shame that it starts with a black cloud.

During the final week of area play this season in Class 7A, the Spain Park Jaguars did what they needed to do to not only clinch a playoff spot but earn a shot at playing for the area championship thanks to a sweep of the Chelsea Hornets.

Ultimately, that opportunity was stolen away from the players due to a rule in the rulebook that coaches get to choose whether they follow or not—a rule the AHSAA has to take a look at ahead of the postseason next year.

Hewitt-Trussville also entered the same week battling for a playoff spot and possible area championship in a series with the Oak Mountain Eagles.

The Huskies went on to sweep Oak Mountain, which created a tie between Hewitt and Spain Park with records of 4-2 in area play with the two deadlocked after splitting their series a week earlier.

Unlike many other areas who play a third tiebreaker game on the same night as the second game of the area series during the regular season, that wasn’t the case throughout area play for this group of four teams.

Rather, sources confirmed that during the most recent reclassification, when they joined the same area, and during pre-season meetings, they all agreed to play out any tiebreaker scenarios following the final area game should they end up tied.

An unwritten rule most teams across the state follow, and a reason many go ahead and choose to play that third tiebreaker game during their area series with one another.

That, however, wasn’t the case this time around. Ultimately, rather than settling it on the field, the Huskies walked away with the area championship following the AHSAA set of tiebreaker rules that went down to Hewitt’s record against non-area like opponents.

Oddly enough, the Huskies got that advantage because of a game Spain Park had to cancel against Briarwood due to the Lions playing, get this, an extra area game to determine an area championship.

You can’t make that up.

As much as I think a game three should have been played as the deciding factor in crowning the area champion this year, I’m not here to bash Hewitt-Trussville and their head coach for changing their minds because the rule worked in their favor.

Yes, there would have been an extra split gate fee that could have benefited both programs. Yes, either way, they’ll be playing a really good top 10 team in Thompson or Hoover in close proximity for all fans. And, yes, it feels very odd altogether considering everyone’s expectation on that final Thursday night was a Saturday game.

But, there is one place to shift the blame, and that’s the AHSAA rules themselves.

While the decision did catch everyone off guard and just seemed to toe the line of sportsmanship, the rulebook rules were followed.

The problem is, coaches get to choose whether to use those rules or not, and weirdly enough, most choose not to follow the rules, making it weird when someone does.

It is an abnormal conundrum that the AHSAA has to fix, and there is only one right decision—make it a rule to play an odd number of area games.

Many areas already do that during the regular season, even though they aren’t required to, but it needs to be a rule.

In no sport, or really any facet of life or business where you could possibly end up in a tie, does it make sense to not have an odd number to break that tie.

Why would we let a decision come down to games in early February and March rather than the teams who are deadlocked battling it out on the field.

As a player, you live for those moments and opportunities to play in those types of games, and as a coach, you should have confidence in your team putting together a winning performance.

Right now, the AHSAA is not enforcing their tiebreaker rules in the rulebook considering the number of teams in the playoffs using a third game. Part of me believes that’s because they secretly know it’s the best way to break the tie.

So, let’s make it official.

When looking at the upcoming reclassification for the next two years, this rule needs to be the other top priority when it comes to the sport of baseball. The only other option is to turn to a college format and follow that of other high school sports with an area tournament to determine your top two teams, but we’ll save that topic for another day.