COLUMN: How to save the CAL Basketball Tournament

By TOM WILLIAMS

Almost everybody is hoping for a high school basketball season this winter. Some coaches will tell you privately that they think the chances are less than 50-50, but they all try to stay optimistic.

The NJSIAA and Governor Murphy have set guidelines for winter sports. Practice can start on Dec. 3, the first game can be played on Dec. 21 and the regular season will end on Feb. 3. Basketball teams will be limited to 15 games. The NJSIAA criteria says “all competition will be limited to two teams only”. But what they meant to say was “two schools only” because junior varsity games are OK, freshman games are OK and even girl-boy doubleheaders are OK – as long as only two schools are involved.

That means showcases and tournaments will likely by eliminated (though the NJSIAA and the governor both say those restrictions could change). However, the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend, Boardwalk Basketball Classic, Seagull Classic, War vs. Shore, Girls Shootout and Battle By The Bay have all been cancelled.

The Cape-Atlantic League has set up for the basketball season by creating three divisions. Since no championships are being decided in the CAL fall sports, we can probably assume there will be none in basketball.

These are the three tentative divisions:

The likely plan is for each team to play each other team in its division twice, leaving no more than three games to be scheduled. Here is a better idea.

Make one game against each team in the division required and make the second game optional. It can be cancelled by mutual agreement and the two schools can schedule someone else. Absegami and Oakcrest would probably play that second game. So would Lower Cape May-Middle, Ocean City-Mainland, Millville-Vineland and others. But it would give teams some options. We can all think of some matchups in those divisions that we’d rather not see happen twice.

Now, after those 12 games are played, the CAL seeding committee would get together, pick the top eight teams and seed them. The first round of the tournament would be like it always has been, each game on the court of the higher seed.

Then things would change.

Using last year’s seedings as a guide, on the girls semifinal night, Atlantic City would be at Ocean City at 5pm and Mainland at Wildwood Catholic at 7pm. For the boys, Mainland at St. Augustine at 5pm and St. Joseph at Wildwood Catholic at 7pm. Then, keeping that format for the finals, the Mainland girls would be at Atlantic City at 5 and St. Augustine at Wildwood Catholic at 7.

The teams that do not get seeded for the tournament can play up to three consolation games, either assigned by the committee or scheduled on their own. That would also apply to teams who do not reach the finals.

This way only two schools are playing in each gym. And the games do not conflict with each other so fans can either attend them or, more likely, watch them online or follow on the radio.

The main goal for winter sports teams – like those in the fall and spring – is to play. So, playing with very few championships at stake is better than nothing. But here is a way – within all the current NJSIAA guidelines – to bring a little more normalcy to the basketball season and keep alive the tournament that sets the CAL apart from all other South Jersey leagues.

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