Dear Cape-Atlantic League athletic directors, I’m writing to you this Christmas and not to Santa Claus.
You can give me the present that I want — a CAL boys and girls basketball tournament this winter.
CAL athletic directors are in the midst of developing plans for the winter high school sports season. It’s no easy task. The COVID-19 landmines are everywhere.
First, Gov. Phil Murphy needs to approve indoor sports practices and competitions. Those activities are prohibited until Jan. 2. Basketball practice is supposed to start Jan. 11 with the first games scheduled for Jan. 26.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association is allowing teams to play 15 games, including any postseason contests.
Once the games start, the problems are only beginning. But the format for the tournament and the league could be kept simple.
The CAL could be divided into two divisions:
• CAL North: St. Augustine Prep/OLMA, Atlantic City, Egg Harbor Township, ACIT, Holy Spirit, Cedar Creek, Oakcrest, Absegami, Hammonton, St. Joseph Academy and Buena Regional
• CAL South: Wildwood Catholic, Middle Township, Vineland, Millville, Bridgeton, Pleasantville, Cape May Tech, Mainland Regional, Ocean City and Lower Cape May Regional.
Each team plays its division opponent once. This gives each team nine or 10 games, depending on the division.
Here’s the good news. Everyone — all 21 schools — makes the CAL Tournament. Teams would be seeded from 1 to 21. The top 11 seeds would get first-round byes. The tournament would have consolation rounds, so each school is guaranteed four or five games.
Now, the questions start.
Not every team will play all its regular season games. That’s OK. The league can adjust.
Several CAL schools will be virtually learning until Jan. 19. Many schools do not allow extracurricular activities during virtual learning, and because of that, they might not be able to start the season on time. Others will have games canceled by COVID-19. That’s also OK. The league can adjust.
Teams will be seeded based on uneven number of games played. That’s OK. The league can adjust.
A team might even make its season debut in the tournament. That’s OK. The league can adjust.
A seeding committee can figure it out. The worst-case scenario is that teams can be picked out of a hat and seeded in that order.
Teams might advance in the tournament because their opponent can’t play because of the virus. You guessed it — that’s OK, the league can adjust.
The message here is that there’s no basketball scenario that cannot be adapted to with an open mind.
The CAL Tournament began in 2012. It is one of the best things the league has done. It’s been so successful that the CAL has also started league tournaments in boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball and other sports.
It’s not enough to just play games this winter. The games must have meaning. The CAL Tournament provides that.
The NJSIAA ran an abbreviated postseason in the fall. I watched the Ocean City girls soccer team win the South Jersey East B title. I watched the St. Augustine Prep boys soccer team win the South West Non-Public championship.
Those weren’t the titles those two teams would have played for or won in a nonvirus season.
But they still mattered. There were plenty of smiles as they raised their trophies. They took team pictures in front of the scoreboard.
The postseason gave closure to the seniors and their families.
Winter athletes deserve the same opportunity. They deserve games that matter. They deserve a CAL Tournament.
So, athletic directors, help yourselves to the Diet Cokes and chocolate chip cookies on the table next to my Christmas tree.
All I ask is that you create a modified CAL Tournament, put in a box with a big red bow and leave it under my tree.
I and the rest of the league’s players and coaches will thank you!
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.
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