Is girls basketball getting better in Minnesota? It is a loaded question. Better questions could be: are players better? are games getting more competitive? To those that are watching games right now (before the virus) this is the “golden age.”. That is because the participants are playing right now, spectators are watching right now—-in the present. There is something about the human condition that highlights and emphasizes what is happening RIGHT NOW—-the best movie EVER, the best song EVER, the highest, lowest, worst, best is happening RIGHT NOW. This goes for athletics too. Check out the best players ever, the best moments ever in any sport and the list will tilt to the last 20 years. Anything before that is ancient history—like the Precambrian Era.
When looking at the best, it depends on the measuring stick used and depends on the data available. Here the situation is mixed. Examining the 2020 year on the one hand the average pp100 per class is going up in AAAA, but down in the other three classes. AAAA is sniffing around 90 pp100, eight points higher than the other classes at least.
The margins in each class has popped. Only slightly in AAAA, but they had their big expansion in 2015. Still AAAA has the widest differential at over 60 pp100. The other three classes are nipping at their heels. But the clear trend across the board is up, up, up.
But average just aims at the middle. If we are looking at the top end and the bottom end (20% in each case) we see the rich are getting richer in all classes. They are the schools with resources, stability and tradition (like the New England Patriots). The poor are nowhere to be seen—-they have fallen off the map. They are the ones with empty pockets, a revolving door of talent (both players and coaches), and tradition, but not in a good way—–think Cleveland Brown tradition. In the chart below the .1 is the bottom 20% of the scale. When you don’t see any gray bars for AAA, AA, and A that means those classes came in at zero or under . Top 20% going up, bottom 20% going down. 50 would be zero on the scale below. That means 70 would be 120 pp100.
The chasm between the two ends has widened considerably in the last ten years to Grand Canyon proportions. The result of the game is known before the tip. There is no drama, there is no level playing field (or court). Look at the percent of games where the margin was over 34 points a game—-running time neighborhood. Just ten years ago it was in the vicinity of 4%. Now it had the biggest share of games with 22%. Games of six points or less have dropped from 27% to 19%. The biggest decline came in the second category—-seven to thirteen from 34% to 20%.
So how can we get this playing field to level? I do not believe in putting undue burdens or restrictions on the teams that are successful. They are working to create a better product. They should be emulated. Schools that are struggling right now need to invest the resources and time to get up to speed.
I have touched on relegation before in these writings. No longer would schools be divided by the number of students in a building. That has a miniscule relation to success. Not every AAAA could compete with lower class teams as the situation now stands. Relegation could eliminate horrible mismatches where no one learns anything. Keeping the programs of success together would force teams to play at their level of competition, not school size. Will this relegation system come into existence? Not in the foreseeable future. Some schools enjoy being the big fish in a tiny pond and have no desire to swim with the sharks. Traditional conferences would be a thing of the past.
One reason the spread is increasing is due to the experience of the players on the floor. Last week we explored that the players are getting younger, even at the AAAA level. It is easy to look at bodies on the court and decide what team is going to prevail. But one should not be hypnotized by grade. The increased specialization and emphasis of traveling ball and club ball has given these players more quality touches than some players in the upper grades. The youngsters have played meaningful games on national stages in the summer. Those touches, those experiences, can not be weighed looking at a player prior to the game. But if you could place that contact on a scale it would not be a mystery at all.
WORST CASE SCENARIOS
With the ongoing virus situation, perhaps it will be a leveler of sorts. It knocked out the final two days of the 2020 State Tournament. It has knocked out April and May for club ball. All teams in all locations across all classes are in the same unhappy boat. No private lessons, no extra season and extra reps against quality opposition.
From what I have picked up on various websites and online seminars is this virus is not going to make a quick pivot to “the way we were.” Already communities are cancelling July 4th celebrations. Professional leagues are desperately trying to salvage a season. Playing baseball games in empty stadiums in Arizona has been proposed. A new ball after every play. Even with no fans the task becomes daunting with the players sitting in the stands, not in the dugout. Football might be playing front of cameras only.
Basketball involves more player contact that baseball. The ball is touched by everyone. They won’t be Purelling the ball. I heard on one podcast that extrapolated to the 2020-21 season—-perhaps just a school based intramural season. No traveling to other schools. If there was traveling to another school there would be no fans allowed. Players and coaches would have to have a document giving the all clear. Add in referees, and other table workers. It would be a drastic change. All this changes with a vaccine. The vaccine won’t be ready for about twelve months if then.
The seniors of 2020 had their season ripped from them at the end. It could very well be that the junior class (2021) could also have had their season taken away without anyone knowing it at the time. I hope not. I have my fingers crossed.