It’s always tricky analyzing things in a world where the Greatest Thing Ever is usually no more than eight minutes old. But the general consensus is that this year’s high school basketball tournament was one of the best in a while.

And when something is good, the tendency — especially here in Maine, where the wheels of change move more slowly than I do at a 10 a.m. quarterfinal session before my third cup of coffee — is to leave it alone.

Hope you’re sitting down or at least holding onto a metal support beam for this one, but I don’t know how to leave well enough alone.

Yes, the hoop tourney is one of the few redeeming qualities of the endless, expensive, brutal Maine winter. Yes, it has prospered with a relatively consistent formula for decade upon decade.

It isn’t above tweaking, though. The well-intentioned folks at the Maine Principals’ Association have admitted as much.

Inspired by the painful, protracted discussions that successfully fanned out football from three enrollment classifications to four, MPA officials have sat down with a legal pad and begun to examine other sports.

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Last I knew, those discussions were in the “brainstorming” phase, so let’s not get too excited. Any change is at least one presidential election cycle or four Kardashian sister marriages away.

Could we see a day, however, when high school basketball is divided into five, or maybe even six classes? It’s possible. And the more important question: Should that happen? I say absolutely.

We’ve been in denial for years, because Mainers wear our denial well. We simultaneously enjoy our isolation from the rest of the world while suffering from an inferiority complex about it. To admit that our economy has tanked and that our socioeconomic map has shifted beyond recognition kills us.

There are inequities and obvious problems in every class, beginning with East/West numerical balance. In Class A and C, the West has four more schools than the East. Over in B and D, the scales tip in the other direction — 19 teams to 15, and 24 to 16, respectively.

Yes, twenty-four. That was a source of great consternation when the MPA’s two-thirds rule forced the No. 1 seed in Class D East boys, Washburn, to play a preliminary game against No. 16 Jonesport-Beals. And the Beavers lost, leading many to cry foul that a team enjoying such a stout regular-season was burned in a one-and-done scenario to get to Bangor.

That didn’t bother me much. If you’re 15-3, you should be able to win at home against a team that’s 6-12, or maybe you didn’t belong on the main stage, anyway. The larger problem is that the MPA already had to move Searsport to “Western” Maine, laughable as that sounds, to avoid the headache of a play-in game just to get to the preliminary round.

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There’s a need to be forward-thinking here, because a majority of Class C and D East is made up of communities in Aroostook, Hancock and Washington counties. Nobody’s making babies or creating jobs there anymore.

Short of school consolidation (You wanna talk about resistance to change? Dear Lord!), we’re going to see those schools continue to shrink, flooding Eastern Maine’s basement.

So what happens then? Greenville and Searsport being gerrymandered West looks silly enough. Who moves next? Deer Isle-Stonington? Jonesport-Beals? My word, some of those poor folks are still in counseling over Bangor Auditorium being leveled. We can’t yank another tradition out from underneath their feet.

There’s also a competitive imbalance. With the notable exception of the Valley boys’ dynasty, the East has dominated Class D state finals, both genders, since the early 1990s.

Class B and C West are impacted by these changing times, as well.

I’m going to try to say this nicely: Mountain Valley Conference basketball is dying. There are exceptions, of course. The Dirigo boys, who are set up to be a powerhouse until the end of time. Spruce Mountain, which is leaving. Elsewhere, student population is dropping. Many programs are a shell of their past glory. I’m not sure geographically or psychologically that Mt. Abram needs to be playing Lisbon or Oak Hill.

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Even in Class A, where Bangor and Hampden’s historic prosperity has kept us from noticing, by and large the Greater Portland schools are growing and the Androscoggin/Kennebec schools are shrinking. The shift has been more subtle in basketball than football, because it requires fewer bodies, but those of us paying attention are starting to see them surface.

It feels crazy suggesting radical changes to something that is packaged so well and often presents as such an amazing product, but the future depends upon it.

As was the case with football, some schools and administrators will be asked to subjugate their interests to the greater good. That will take time, and no shortage of guilt-tripping.

More classes. “State” titles that are more regionalized. The end of conferences as we know them. A return to the open tournament model, if only to minimize the importance of the almighty Heal Points and encourage schools to play opponents in their area.

That’s my brainstorm for taking something that’s already terrific and making it transcendent. What’s yours?

It’s going to take a group effort to keep this thing moving forward. Here in Maine, we’re usually good at such things.

In due time.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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