Sautter: Metro proposal cutting number of out-of-conference games would hurt Nebraska high school basketball

Omaha Central won last month's Metro Conference Holiday tournament.

Let's discuss a topic that could change the landscape of Class A basketball.

There is a proposal, backed by a 12-5 vote of Metro Conference schools earlier this month, to change the way the conference schedules regular-season basketball games. In effect, the proposal would cut the number of games each team plays outside the conference from four games to two games.

That would be a big drop and would hurt Class A teams outside and inside the Metro. It just wouldn't be good for Nebraska high school basketball, in general, or the players.

The change would take effect after the current scheduling cycle ends following the 2019-20 season. This does allow time for a potential re-vote on the proposal.

I do understand the marginal benefits from a financial standpoint. Busing to Lincoln, Kearney or Grand Island, for instance, may strain budgets. But, in my opinion, that is not a strong argument.

The costs are minimal and should be trivial when educators weigh the benefits of athletes visiting other parts of the state, that perhaps, they would never have a chance to otherwise. I personally know athletes in Omaha who would never visit cities like Kearney or Norfolk if it wasn’t for a basketball trip. I’m betting there aren’t a lot of kids in Kearney or Norfolk who would get to visit Omaha North, for instance, if not for basketball.

Those experiences are important for high school students. The cultural exchange is of high value. In my coverage of AAU basketball, I see the benefits all the time of Omaha kids becoming good friends with kids from other parts of the state. In truth, it’s one of the best things I see in my summers of traveling the country to cover the Nebraska teams on the various AAU circuits.

Another reason that I’m hearing in support of the proposal is that ticket sales are higher when Metro teams play each other. Bigger crowds make the Metro schools more money. I’m not here to say that isn’t true.

A meeting of traditional powers like Omaha Central and Creighton Prep will draw a larger crowd than if Grand Island faced either of those teams, for instance. But realize the downside too.

What if No. 1-ranked Lincoln East was set to play at No. 2 Omaha Central on Saturday? That game would have great interest. Well, it’s not happening, and the chances of it happening under the new proposal would be even smaller. That is a legitimate concern.

As one athletic director outside the Metro told me: “As NSAA-member schools, it’s important for us to give equal opportunities and to continue to have the opportunity to compete against each other.”

The two reasons I’m hearing in support of this proposal seem to pale against the benefits of the cultural exchange and interest in good intersectional matchups. Hey, we are all in this great state together. Let’s not start building barriers for what I suspect would be marginal monetary savings.

But let’s not stop the argument there. Consider these points:

>> I think it’s safe to say that an elitist attitude exists in the Metro Conference, perhaps rightfully so. But that attitude needs to be earned every year by playing competition outside the conference.

It’s obvious to those who regularly see games throughout the state that the Metro Conference is mostly in a league of its own. But there's also a high level of play elsewhere.

The Heartland Athletic Conference, for example, is comprised of the Lincoln Public Schools, Fremont and Grand Island. Norfolk, Lincoln Pius X and Kearney are joining the HAC in the 2018-19 school year.

Those teams like to beat the best in the Metro, and fans around the state relish seeing those games. It’s what Nebraska high school sports are all about. There should be more of it, not less.

>> The Nebraska School Activities Association has a point system that rewards one wild-card berth to the state tournament each year. If North Platte or Kearney cannot schedule teams from the Metro, then who are they going to schedule? They may have to fill with Class B or even C-1 teams that are closer to them geographically. In that scenario, those teams are at a severe disadvantage in district seedings and wild-card points.

It’s not far-fetched. Last season, Lincoln Pius X played mainly a class B schedule — because it moved to Class A in the middle of the scheduling cycle — and it was still awarded a wild-card berth in the Class A boys state basketball tournament. Metro schools weren't happy about it, and it won’t sit well in the future, yet the Metro is considering ushering in such a situation every year?

Like this proposal, it’s just bad sense.

Get a daily roundup of game recaps, player features and more in your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Recommended for you

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.