So many games. So little time. If you’re a student and you don’t think February vacation is long enough, try being one of the Maine Principals’ Association committee members responsible for a basketball tournament schedule.

As we learned from the past two blizzard-battered years, that docket at the three tournament sites in Augusta, Bangor and Portland already was maxed out. Postpone one session and it creates problems. Postpone a full day and disaster ensues.

In this litigious, and yes, lily-livered society of ours, however, what other choice did the men and women paid handsomely to wear suits and sit at courtside have at their disposal? There were inconveniences, but in the end, all regional games were completed by the second Saturday, on time, as scheduled. We all went home and lived happily ever after.

Most insiders knew it was a dry run at the time, because the addition of the fifth enrollment class we saw this 2015-16 season already was considered a foregone conclusion. That created another full tournament — North and South, boys and girls — with a tradition-hungry public’s expectation that it also would be completed within the boundaries of tournament week.

Short of starting games at 1:30 a.m. or playing on Sunday (a move that already has been discussed and rejected a half-dozen times), there officially is no way to accommodate all that activity in a nine-day window. So the MPA did what seemed, in fairness, a logical path of least resistance. It made minor tweaks to the time-honored schedule to squeeze in the semifinals and regional finals for Class AA, and it gave the newly minted division its own quarterfinal stage on the front end of the tournament proper.

Unfortunately, the front end of the tournament proper meant this past Wednesday and Thursday night. Work nights. Plausibly school nights, although let’s be honest. Nobody’s cracking a book during what it is traditionally everybody’s winter carnival or school spirit week. We’re all too busy freezing off our butts to juggle quadratic equations and chemical formulae.

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Inside Augusta Civic Center, at least, the results were predictable. Wednesday night’s Class AA North girls’ quarterfinals enjoyed all the ambiance of a poetry reading. Sad, because they were two great games, punctuated with comebacks for the ages by Deering and Lewiston. Thursday’s boys’ doubleheader, featuring another unforgettable rally by Edward Little and a clinic by Andrew Fleming of Oxford Hills, had a better environment, to the degree that one feels “better” the day after a 24-hour stomach flu.

It left some of us tournament lifers, while sympathetic to the plight of the people with the thankless job of planning this party, feeling that some of the most substantial guests with the largest potential entourages had been shortchanged.

“Playing February vacation week, and being here all day leading up to it, that’s special. Kids deserve the opportunity. They work way too hard not to have a special opportunity,” Edward Little boys’ coach Mike Adams said after his team rallied from seven points down in the final minute to eliminate Cheverus. “I’m sorry if I step on anybody’s toes or offend anybody. I know it’s impossible to make a schedule. But if we’re in it for the kids, February vacation, having this place packed, that’s what it’s all about.”

Alternatives will be discussed. One of the best qualities of the MPA in the new century is that the body welcomes discussion and reevaluates classification on a biennial basis. Since this is Planet Earth and this is 2016, none of these solutions will satisfy everyone.

Solidifying Class AA into one region of 16 boys’ and 17 girls’ programs, with no geographic distinctions, likely would lead to regular season scheduling snafus. In this era of strained athletic budgets, it doesn’t make much sense for Bangor and Sanford (for example) to play one another when each has quality Class A and B opponents within shouting distance. That also assuredly would result in the tournament being moved to Portland, where there is relative wiggle room in the vacation-week schedule. Ask Bangor how they would feel about that commute, and prepare to be pelted with rotten fruit.

It’s also possible that the Class AA tournament could move to March, which was the exclusive domain of the Class A showcase for decades. Times have changed, though. We don’t like to travel on cold nights when we have to be awake the next morning for work or school as much as we used to. Also, now that the big schools have enjoyed a taste of February Fury, they kind of dig it. Which means you can probably scratch another proposal: Play those quarterfinals at campus sites or another neutral court on the first Saturday of vacation.

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“I don’t want to play a quarterfinal game at the higher seed’s gym,” Adams said. “I want to play it in Augusta. It’s a special place. It’s every kid’s dream, and they deserve a chance to play here.”

My modest, imperfect, but hopefully equitable proposal: Rather than stick Class AA at the equivalent of the Thanksgiving kids’ table every year, why not schedule those Wednesday and Thursday night quarterfinals on a rotating basis?

As it stands now, Augusta hosts Class A and AA North and Class C and D South. Portland welcomes Class AA, A and B South. Assuming there’s no way to start everything on Friday and get in all the games without administrators pulling out their hair or building an altar to the weather gods, let’s build a schedule in which each class has to bite the bullet and endure the early start every third or fourth year.

Even the things we consider “tradition” had to start somewhere. I’m with Adams. I love the event we have. It isn’t broken. It’s just overweight. It doesn’t need to go on a radical diet or have cosmetic surgery. It simply needs to be dressed appropriately for its body type.

If a tournament week is good, a tournament week-and-a-half is better, in my book. Let’s just be careful to share the prime-time spotlight.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 and like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kalleoakes.sj.


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