Morrison: Let It Be Neutral

WHEELING – Less than one day after their teams battled in front of a standing-room only crowd, Magnolia coach Dave Tallman and Bishop Donahue coach Tom Wise got together on the phone.

It was a day before the seeding for the West Virginia Class A, Region 1, Section 1 tournament would be released.

Honestly, both coaches knew it was a tossup whether his team would earn that first-round bye and home-court advantage in tonight’s sectional tournament semifinal, which, for one squad, means the end of the season.

Both had made strong cases throughout the season, and they had split the season series, each winning on the other team’s court.

Magnolia had won the day before, 61-55 behind an epic 38-point performance of sophomore Preston Boswell.

Perhaps Wise had a feeling that it would be a deciding factor in Magnolia earning the No. 2 seed

Or maybe both were feeling magnanimous because in the space of just a few minutes they came up with the idea that instead of playing in the cramped confines of Bishop Donahue, or at Magnolia, where the home team was 4-4, they should play it at John Marshall Fieldhouse.

So they will, tonight at 7 p.m.

It makes dollars and sense.

Stands to reason the more seating you have, the more butts you put in seats. The more butts in seats the more money you make. Well worth the roughly $1,000 it will cost to have the game there. Even those with a remote interest in good high school hoops will come out if they know they have a place to park and a place to sit.

It was so easy, it makes me wonder why the coaches have not agreed to play the entire section at a neutral site.

There are plenty of venues available.

The fieldhouse at John Marshall, Wheeling Jesuit, West Liberty to name three.

It’s hardly an original idea.

Many sections already do it.

In the hotbed of Class AA basketball – Region 3, Section 1 – plays its sectional tournament at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center (formerly the Raleigh County Armory). Any time you get two Wyoming County teams together in Beckley it is guaranteed to be packed.

It’s a wonderful thing.

Why not here?

The coaches don’t seem to want it.

Wise, truth be known, admits he wasn’t just being magnanimous when he offered to change the venue for tonight’s game.

“I am not for that,” he said of a one-site tournament. “The only reason I wanted to (change the venue) was the uncertainty of the seeding. I will be honest. Our gym is a tough place for opponents to play, it’s tight in there, we have a great home crowd and we typically shoot well in there.”

Magnolia’s Tallman agreed.

Tallman, however, is a proponent of the one-site tournament, and until this year, had been the No. 1 seed in the region since dropping down to Class A.

“I’ve always been an advocate of that,” Tallman said. “We’ve been the new kid on the block since dropping down and I have had the privilege to get reacquainted with some really great coaches. I brought it up, you know, move it to a big venue and pack the place. It got shot down pretty quick. The coaches felt that since the section final is on a neutral court (Brooke High) the semifinal is the one game where you should have a home-court advantage.”

Wheeling Central’s Mel Stephens, this year’s No. 1 seed, and the No. 1 team in Class A basketball, is also in favor of the one-venue theme.

“It has been brought up at our sectional meeting in the summer,” Stephens said. “It never gets very far. I’d like to see us do it but the coaches who are for the way it currently exists are in favor of home-court advantage. I understand it, but I would like to see us explore that possibility again.”

I’m not a coach, but I like the idea. I like the setup.

I have seen this scenario work, in a place where basketball is king.

Two nights of two games, starting a 6 and 8 p.m.

It doesn’t get any better.

I hope the coaches have a change of heart. The potential that tonight’s Bishop Donahue-Magnolia game holds as potentially the biggest game of the year in the Valley, on a neutral floor, should offer proof positive.

Dave Morrison can be reached via email at: