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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Good call on football finals at Saint A’s

Gary Fitz

Let’s hear it for the folks at the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association and the deal they cut with Saint Anselm College to host all six football championship games over two weekends in November.

Having a neutral site to contest the title games is long overdue, and not, for the most part, because home field advantage in football is that big a deal.

Of the last three title games hosted by Pinkerton Academy, for instance, two of them were won by Nashua High School South and Exeter. But in terms of logistics, creature comforts, field conditions and potential weather problems, Pinkerton, with no real shelter from the cold outside of tiny bathrooms, wasn’t an appropriate site for a final game.

The NHIAA has looked at neutral sites for football for a few years now, but has come up empty. The lack of lights rules out the University of New Hampshire.

A plan to play the game at neutral high school sites, including Stellos Stadium, Exeter and Hanover, was so unpopular for a variety of reasons it was scrapped midway through the season a few years ago.

Is six title games at one site the perfect solution? From all accounts, Saint Anselm is a suitable site. But six games – Divisions IV, V and VI on Sunday, Nov. 11, and Divisions I, II and III on Saturday, Nov. 17 – three each day means night, or at least, early evening football during a time of year when it can get very cold on a hillside campus in Manchester.

And the NHIAA’s plan to play half the games on Sunday means it will be going head-to-head with the NFL and even a potential Patriots game, never a good thing when one of the goals is boosting attendance.

The big problem with football remains the fact that New Hampshire crowns six champions in six divisions, which is absurdly watered down. The state should have no more than three football champions by any realistic measure.

While the NHIAA has made strides in many sports to improve its championship and tournament venues, including the idea of playing many of them at tournament-friendly Southern New Hampshire University, it continues to bend over too far backwards to play its baseball title game at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, or whatever they are calling the Fisher Cats home these days.

In order to get use of the field and no conflict with the Eastern League schedule, once again we will have a nine-day gap between the semifinals and finals this year.

This should never happen, especially not in baseball, a sport designed to be played every day. Sure it only effects eight teams, but in terms of timing, pitcher’s rest and the general flatness a team can experience after eight days of nothing but practice, it’s not conducive to staging the best title games, even if it is the best stage.

And extending baseball into mid-June just runs head to head with all kinds of other events, like graduation.

Find a way to get the championship games in a regular schedule or play them someplace else.

Now a few words about basketball.

I, for one, like watching title games in crowded gyms with late arriving fans spilling into the end zones.

Playing title games before 2,000 in a cavernous arena like the Verizon Wireless in Manchester just isn’t the same feel.

Maybe the Berlin-Prospect Mountain Division III boys’ final did tax the limits of the Southern New Hampshire Gym.

But fans will talk for years about the noise and atmosphere. Until 200 or more people are being turned away at the gate, let’s keep the basketball title games where they are.

Gary Fitz can be reached at 594-6469 or