The Michigan High School Athletic Association is considering future host sites for its boys and girls basketball state championships.
The MHSAA’s contract with Michigan State’s Breslin Center expires after the championships conclude this month, and potential conflicts with the women’s basketball NCAA tournament could force the state organization either move the event away from East Lansing or alter its schedule in the future.
Last year, the Michigan State women’s basketball team had to sacrifice hosting a first-round NCAA tournament weekend at Breslin because of the contract with the MHSAA, which held its girls final during that time.MSU earned the No. 4 seed but was forced to play at fifth-seeded Mississippi State (seeds 1-4 become host sites in the women’s tournament).
“What happened, after we signed the contract we are finishing up this year, is that the NCAA changed the rules about how to play first-round women’s games, going from neutral sites to home sites,” said John Johnson, director of communications at the MHSAA. “And who knows, maybe they’ll change their minds again. That is the crux of the issue, that the Women’s NCAA tournament uses home sites as opposed to third-party sites like they do for the men for first-round games.
“We understand the university’s position completely about wanting to preserve that opportunity for their teams if they’ve won their way into that spot; they should have that spot.”
Breslin Center will host semifinal and championship rounds for the girls state tournament from March 16-18 and the boys tournament from March 23-25.
The arena has hosted the boys championships since 1994 and the the girls in 2004-07 and 2011-16. The most recent boys host sites before Breslin include the Palace of Auburn Hills (1990-93) and Michigan’s Crisler Center before that. Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Grand Valley State, Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek and Detroit Mercy have hosted the girls championships through the years.
Johnson said keeping the boys and girls basketball finals together at Breslin is the association’s first goal, though it might not be easy. The MHSAA learned this week that the 2019 women’s NCAA tournament overlaps the conclusion of the boys state tournament.
“This is not an MSU issue (any longer),” Johnson said. “This is really an NCAA calendar conflict with our tournament. This is going to be an issue at any Division 1 school, particularly Big Ten schools because they have a stronger history of being in a position to qualify for these games.”
Michigan State director of new media Matt Larson said in an email: “We enjoy a long running relationship with the MHSAA. Discussions are ongoing as both parties are understanding of the other’s situation, including the conflict between the MHSAA basketball tournament and the first and second rounds of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.”
Johnson said MSU is aware that the MHSAA has requested proposals for potential future host sites.
Jennifer Arapoff, director of marketing and communications for Olympia Entertainment, said Little Caesars Arena, the future home of the Pistons and Red Wings, will host first- and second-round games during the 2018 men’s NCAA tournament. It’s also scheduled to host the the men’s and women’s Horizon League tournament from 2018-21.
“We really have two things working here; to see what we can do with venue availability around our current schedule, and (secondly) this might have to go to a discussion with the membership about being creative with our basketball schedules to get out of the way of those NCAA tournaments,” Johnson said Wednesday. “A lot of other states don’t have this problem because their basketball seasons don’t run until the end of March. There are a number of states that are in their basketball state finals right now.
“It would definitely take us longer to work on the calendar than to work on the venues. Short term we have to work on the venue options. Long term a calendar look may be needed. That will include a full discussion with the (schools) membership.”
Will wrestling split from Palace?
The Pistons move to downtown Detroit might create a domino effect for future events held at the Palace, which has a contract in place to host the MHSAA individual wrestling state finals through 2019.
Can that contract be honored? Will it remain open for non-basketball events or be scheduled for demolition like Joe Louis Arena?
“Everybody wants to know about the Palace and I think when they tell everybody, we’ll know what are plans are going forward,” Johnson said. “We are just as much in the dark as any member of the public, or anybody who’s got a contract with them that comes through on a regular basis, like an ice show or concerts. So we have to take a wait and see attitude until we know, because we have 2018 and ‘19 contracts signed to be at the Palace.
“If you look forward beyond that, if the Palace isn’t an option, there aren’t very many places that can accommodate 12 mats on the floor at a time,” Johnson continued. “So our options are very limited for that, to keep it in one place. A college basketball arena cannot accommodate 12 mats. Our options if we want to keep it all under one roof are very, very limited.”
The Palace has hosted the four divisions – one of the largest wrestling meets in the country each year – since 2002. The tournament was held at Joe Louis Arena from 1999-01, and the divisions split to various sites before that. Before coming to Detroit, the individual finals were divided between Kellogg Arena and Western Michigan’s Read Fieldhouse.
Johnson said a floor large enough for ice hockey generally can hold 12 wrestling mats at one time. Seating capacity also is a factor when pinpointing potential host sites. Additionally, the team dual state championship is not locked in for next year. The two-year contract with Central Michigan has expired but new negotiations are expected between both parties.
The floor space at CMU’s McGuirk Arena is smaller, so adjustments were made last weekend by splitting the final rounds into two sessions instead of one.
“We’re not sure right now what happens with either one of our wrestling situations,” Johnson said. “I think it’s been a good experience (at CMU). We’ll see if breaking the finals down into two rounds is more fan friendly. All indications right now say that it is. The university has treated us very well. The only shortcoming here is it’s tight down on the floor but everybody’s worked together and made that work well.
“The people have always liked events on this campus,” he added. “When girls’ basketball was here they absolutely loved the location. They love it here for wrestling, so it’s a nice fit in a lot of ways.”