Keeping up with the changes

In case you missed it — and if you had the stomach flu as I did recently, you missed everything for a few days — fundamental changes have been made to the three most popular high school sports. A change in basketball will affect the way the game is played, and a change in football will affect who plays who and a change in baseball affects the state tournament schedule.

Let’s start with basketball. The National Federation of State High School Associations has approved a rule change for free-throw shooting that will leave the lane spaces closest to the basket open.

The change is designed to reduce rough play in the lane and follows in the footsteps of a college rule change installed last season. The rule was installed on an experimental basis in Georgia high schools last season, and NFHS officials said it reduced fouls on free-throw rebounds while keeping defensive rebounding percentages “within an acceptable range.”

The NFHS basketball rules committee also voted against the use of instant replay to review specific situations in state tournaments. Championship games in three states last season were decided by last-second shots, including one in an Ohio girls game that clearly came after time had expired. (See story, follow-up.)

The football change affects postseason play, returning the playoffs to a more familiar format. The KHSAA has jettisoned the playoff format used for the last two years in which teams played first- and second-round games within their own districts. That system was supposed to cut travel expenses and increase attendance in the early rounds, but it proved widely unpopular among coaches and fans alike.

This season, teams from two districts will once again be bracketed with each other starting with the first round. Basically, it’s a return to the brackets that were used from 1991-2005. In the lowest five classes, teams from District 1 will be paired with District 2, as will Districts 3 and 4, Districts 5 and 6 and Districts 7 and 8. Inexplicably, Class 6A will use a different bracket created by a previously approved random draw.

I’ll never be happy about the switch to six classes, but at least some order has been restored to the pigskin world.

Finally, the state baseball tournament has been scheduled to move all four first-round games to the same day. (See bracket.) The tourney will be played Thursday through Saturday, June 12-14, eliminating the off day that two teams previously had between the first round and semifinals.

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