The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

April 23, 2014

OSSAA and religion mix a strange brew

ENID, Okla. — The recently completed Merrifield Office Plus invitational prep baseball tournament provided area fans with an entertaining dose of small-school baseball played at a top-of-the-line facility at David Allen Memorial Ballpark. Unfortunately, it also provided a strong reminder of what happens when tournaments are hamstrung by antiquated rules that force the organizers to overload the daily schedule of games, making it impossible to keep the games on schedule.

And who or what is to blame? Mostly, a strange brew between the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association and religion.

A perusal of the OSSAA’s available online manuals for each sport it oversees revealed baseball is the only sport specifically precluded from playing on Wednesdays. At least that is the best one could interpret, since much of the OSSAA’s manuals read with the ease of a schematic of a General Motors ignition assembly.

Although only passed in 2012, the OSSAA’s rule to prohibit baseball from playing baseball on Wednesdays was a concession to church services. Though it was an unwritten rule for years, OSSAA saw the need to memorialize it. That, along with the unwritten rule that no games can be played on Sunday, seriously impacts the ability to put on competitive games, especially for tournaments that are forced to cram everything in a Thursday to Saturday window.

That compacted scheduling window meant, for instance, the Merrifield was forced to schedule as many as six games at each facility (Pioneer High School also served as a host site) on consecutive days and five games on championship Saturday. The result was predictable as games, even though a time-limit was allegedly in place, ran over and by the end of the day, the final game was starting by as many as 90 minutes late, extending late into the night.

How it serves the student-athletes (and remember, these kids are students first) to have to play so many games in such a tight timeframe or late into the night benefits anybody is open to serious debate.  Now, to be fair, some of the blame can be laid at the feet of the umpires who, for some reason, and despite the clearly prescribed tournament rules, still at times allowed 35-40 minutes to pass between games that would have otherwise started on time.

But still it would seem to come back to the fact OSSAA is forcing such a situation by bowing to religious pressures.

Scheduling games, and this could be limited only to tournaments, from Wednesday through Sunday would not put any additional burden on the players, nor cause them to miss more instructional time. Games could be spaced out over the four days, meaning not every team would have to play each day. The tournament likely wouldn’t extend to 11:30 each night and the players would be fresher, providing a more competitive event. The burden seems especially tough for the smaller schools which have smaller rosters. This would ease that aspect as well.

It also would eliminate playing a championship game late into the night if the tournaments were allowed to play their title game on a Sunday afternoon. Both teams would be fresher, and really, is there anything more American than a baseball game on a sunny spring day at the ballpark?

Why baseball is singled out for the Wednesday ban is curious. Other spring prep sports play on Wednesday, such as golf or tennis. Interestingly too, OSSAA has a special clause allowing their baseball playoff games to be played on Wednesday. Apparently playoff baseball is not offensive to those attending Wednesday church services, just regular-season baseball.

It is not likely an occasional Wednesday or Sunday prep baseball game is going to seriously disrupt church services. Baseball is currently played at David Allen on Sunday by Northern Oklahoma College Enid and during football season, it seems folks manage to work in attending church around the NFL.

Enid recently shed itself of the antiquated “blue law” that prohibited liquor sales by the drink on Sundays. At last report, society has not collapsed in northwest Oklahoma. It’s time for the rest of the state, and OSSAA, to come along and join Enid in the modern age and play ball.

Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at daver@enidnews.com.

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