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Brooklyn/Queens girls’ hoops coaches frustrated with changing Catholic state format rules

By Joseph Staszewski

Pick something and stick with it.

That is what the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens girls’ basketball coaches said about league officials continually changing their decision about this season’s playoff structure. The latest came a week before the postseason was set to begin.

“It might change tomorrow and that is bad,” Bishop Loughlin coach Chez Williams said. “Put something set in stone and let that be that.”

The league does finally have a format to work with, but not after it changed dramatically since November. The CHSAA chose to scrap the five to eight team state tournament format, which has itself been tweaked over the last seven years, to get the dioceses equally represented at all three levels.

It replaced the AA and A tournament with a four-team playoff with a representative from each of the dioceses competing.

In November, the Brooklyn/Queens coaches objected to the proposal to have their Division I regular season winner be the ‘AA’ representative and the fifth and sixth-place teams play for the ‘A’ spot, thus rendering the diocesan tournament meaningless.

Two months later the athletic directors ratified a plan to have the diocesan tournament winner go ‘AA’ and runner-up represent the league in the ‘A’ state tournament.

CHSAA officials a week before postseason play was set to begin on Feb. 23 notified the teams that the format had changed again. This time it was without a vote from the athletic directors.

Under the final plan, the winner of the diocesan tournament would go ‘AA’ and fifth and sixth-place Nazareth and St. Francis Prep will have a play-in game to decide the league’s ‘A’ team.

The change, the timing and their lack of say in the matter irked the coaches. They had to explain to the players that their seasons and some careers could end sooner than they first thought. Mary Louis coach JoAnn Arbitello said the league was doing an injustice to the girls.

“If they chose to go with October, then I would be like ‘OK, this is what I have to go back and tell my girls,” she said. “January is not standing up and they are going to go with October, but they are going with something totally different a week before the playoffs.”

Coaches said they were notified that the change was because of pushback from the other dioceses. GCHSAA President Denise Hillig declined comment.

Christ the King coach and athletic director Bob Mackey echoed his constituents’ views after beating Bishop Loughlin for the diocesan title, that his league should have stuck to what everyone agreed upon and rewarded its successful teams.

“The issue here is simple,” he said. “It’s win or lose in our league. It’s not win or lose in any other catholic league in New York State. That is wrong. It’s not what the athletic directors voted on. Loughlin should be representing us as an ‘A’ and we should not be sending anyone else but Bishop Loughlin as our ‘A’ representative. Those kids deserve to play.”

Jane Morris, the Cardinal Spellman coach and archdiocesan treasurer, said the plan to have the Brooklyn/Queens runner-up to the ‘A’ was never brought to the rest of the dioceses and would have been shut down if it was.

“Why would our group agree to something like that when we were already complaining their fifth place team was playing in the A?” Morris said. “Now you are going to have your second-place team playing in the A. That is crazy. It absolutely ridiculous.”

Morris, whose team lost to Brooklyn/Queens third-place finisher Mary Louis, by just four points, said the underlying problem is the archdiocese is made up of two ‘A’ leagues, while Brooklyn/Queens is ‘AA.’

It could make the archdiocesan “AA” representative and tournament winner potentially a “sacrificial lamb” to the likes of division winner Christ the King or runner up Bishop Loughlin, according to Morris.

The Rockville Center diocese has already dubbed St. Anthony’s its ‘AA’ team and Cardinal O’Hara (Buffalo) of the Monsignor Martin division earned it by winning the league’s regular season little. The archdiocesan tournament winner will go AA and the loser A.

Those dioceses were not going to accept one of Brooklyn/Queens’ top teams going to the ‘A’. Three teams from the diocese have won Class A state Federation crowns in the last seven seasons after playing as AA teams all year.

“It was supposed to be their last place team people [in A].” Morris said. “That would have been kind of fair.”

The Brooklyn/Queens coaches have a problem with that idea because it rewards St. Francis Prep and Nazareth for having losing seasons. The Terriers did not win a league game and Nazareth, which ended up beating fourth-place Molloy in the diocesan quarterfinals, went 3-7.

“So we lose to a team that is going to play for an A representative in the playoffs and what is our status?,” Stanners coach Scott Lagas said. “Because we fought to win a couple of games during the regular season we don’t get a state bid.”

St. Francis Prep coach Kerri White said her team is happy to get a chance to play more games after falling 51-40 to Mary Louis in its semifinal. She is just doing what the league decided and would have no mater what the format was. Nazareth coach Ron Kelley – whose squad is defending ‘A’ Federation champions – agreed with his constituents.

“You reward the teams that played well throughout the year,” he said. “The top two teams going to Federation that was a sound idea. I don’t like the idea of giving the teams that didn’t play well or do well another chance. They didn’t deserve it.”

A last minute adjustment was also made to the CHSAA Class B state playoffs, said Monsignor McClancy coach Dewey Hopkins.

“I’ve been coaching at McClancy for four years and for four years it’s been a different format for the playoffs all four years,” he said. “That’s the biggest issue I have.”

The CHSAA boys’ league, which is intersectional, guarantees each of its teams two playoff games, much like the girls did the last six years. The boys’ playoffs format has not changed in the last two decades and girls’ coaches want similar opportunities for their players.

According to Brooklyn/Queens coaches, they were irked back in November that the archdiocese was only going to only have one “AA” team, but squads like Moore Catholic, Cardinal Spellman and others still wanted to play then in the regular season. Former ‘AA’ schools St. Michael Academy and St. Peters’ both closed down in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Lagas compared the situation to a team playing an NBA schedule all season, then going to play in the D-League playoffs. Boycotting those games were discussed, but the team ultimately played. “I told every single coach in our league at the October meeting, do not play the A teams,” Arbitello said. “Do not play them. They played us all season long. They got what they wanted.”

What the Brooklyn/Queens coaches want is a consistent playoff format that doesn’t change once it is set.

“Whatever it is, we have to change with it, but it puts an uncomfortability in coaches not knowing that,” Williams said. “That’s not good. The league has to be firmer with their rule.”

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