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AHSAA backs off region play for baseball, softball, soccer

The Alabama High School Athletic Association Central Board of Control met Monday and voted to postpone previously proposed region play for the sports of baseball, softball and soccer until more research and data can be studied.

Upon more discussion Monday, the Central Board tabled the implementation for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 classification period, citing it needs more time to study its options. All three sports will remain in their current formats for the upcoming two-year classification period.

Expansion from area play to region play would mean that instead of three- to four-team areas, schools would be in six- to seven-team regions, making more games mandatory. It would also mean the top four teams from softball area tournaments and baseball areas would advance to post-season play.

The proposals, submitted by Class 7A Hewitt-Trussville, cited the following reasoning: more games would count toward the playoffs, a higher percentage of games would count toward post-season play, coaches would not have to schedule as many out-of-region games, and the change would increase the chances of having better teams in the playoffs.

There were concerns among local coaches that expanding from area play to region play would take much of the flexibility out of scheduling and possibly hurt rivalry games.

There was also concern among local baseball coaches that the expansion to region play could be a nightmare if there was a rain-plagued season, like this year, in which cancellations were routine. Baseball’s pitch count rules would also have been a factor in region play more so than area play.

“I think the state made a wise decision not going to region play until more research can be done,” said Belgreen softball coach Suzy Tverberg. “There were so many things to take into consideration before making a decision of this magnitude. Several questions I had were: How will this affect the number of regular season games and tournaments we can participate in?  If we are forced to play 14-16 region games, that will eliminate eight to 10 regular season games against rivals or big money gate games.

“Will it be the best of three series? Will pitching limits be put into place? How will small schools be able to afford the travel cost?

“I feel I speak for a lot of coaches when I say there are too many issues that need to be considered before making such a drastic change to our sport,” Tverberg added. “Softball is a tournament sport, and I just hate to see them change what has worked well for years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Russellville head baseball coach Chris Heaps shared many of the same concerns as Tverberg, citing travel and what is best for the state as a whole.

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Heaps. “I feel it would have created more problems than it would have solved. I think they need to look at it in more depth to determine all of the advantages versus the disadvantages.

“Travel would have created a major problem for a lot of schools due to distance between region opponents.  I know the Birmingham schools favored it to get more teams into the playoffs, due to very competitive areas, but I’m not sure it was best for the whole state or for all classifications.

“I get their concern, though, as there are a lot of good teams left out of the playoffs,” Heaps added. “I honestly think all 32 7A teams should be in and all teams 1A-7A should get to play 30-32 regular season games if they choose.”

The AHSAA staff was asked to continue gathering data for the Central Board to study.

The Board approved new alignments for 2022-24 Tuesday:

BASEBALL

  • Class 1A Area 14: Belgreen, Vina, Hackleburg and Phillips
  • Class 2A Area 16: Tharptown, Red Bay, Lexington, Mars Hill and Sheffield
  • Class 3A Area 15: Phil Campbell, Colbert County and Colbert Heights
  • Class 5A Area 14: Russellville, Jasper, Lawrence County and West Point

SOFTBALL

  • Class 1A Area 13: Belgreen, Vina, Hackleburg and Phillips
  • Class 2A Area 13: Tharptown, Red Bay and Winston County
  • Class 3A Area 12: Phil Campbell, Carbon Hill, Colbert Heights and Winfield
  • Class 5A Area 16: Russellville, Ardmore and Lawrence County

SOCCER

  • Class 1A-3A Area 7: Tharptown, Danville, Holly Pond, J.B. Pennington, St. Bernard and Susan Moore
  • Class  5A Area 8: Russellville, A.P. Brewer, Ardmore, East Limestone, Lawrence County and West Point
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