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NMAA rules: Playoff positions to come at a premium

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

The New Mexico Activities Association board of directors finalized important ones Wednesday morning, including several that will greatly impact the postseason for high school sports facing COVID-19 concerns while aiming to prevent the spread of the virus in an unprecedented 2020-21 school year.

To that end, the NMAA is tweaking its handbook with some temporary changes and revisions to a few bylaws, a few presented to the board Wednesday.

The NMAA Commission initially voted to continue to give district champions an automatic bid to their state tournament prior to Wednesday, and the NMAA board voted similarly. Fewer playoff qualifiers, of course, means fewer at-large bids in all the major team sports that will have a maximum of eight teams for the 2020-21 prep sports calendar.

In Class 5A basketball, for example, there will be three at-large bids instead of the usual 11, to be selected among 23 schools after five district champions grab qualifying spots.

“I don’t see why you can’t have the regular 16 teams (in the state playoffs),” Rio Rancho boys basketball coach Wally Salata said. “Because it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the selection committee. In our case since we have five districts, you’re only going to have three at-large teams. How are you going to choose (the at-large teams)? That is going to be very difficult.

“I know the objective is to get us to play, but at the same time it’s going to be one of those situations where it’s going to be very difficult. Our district, for example, we usually have four teams that are in the state tournament every year, and now you’re going to break that down to two. It’s a no-win situation.”

Soccer and football are going from 12 state qualifiers to eight in 2021, and this will put extra pressure on teams to get a high finish in the more competitive districts. In football, however, there are only three districts in the largest class (6A), so there will be five at-large bids from the selection committee.

La Cueva football coach Brandon Back believes there is a great amount of depth in each of the districts, and that it will be “interesting” to select the at-large teams. Football teams will play a max of seven regular-season games next spring.

“It definitely puts a bigger emphasis on every single game you have, especially when you have a truncated season,” Back said. “Less games, and more important games from the beginning. That will play a big role.”

Back said he was in favor of the board’s decision of cutting down the playoff field.

“Considering all the other factors of trying to get the season in and still having other students playing other sports, yes I think that was one thing they had to do,” Back said. “When you look at all the factors they had to decide on, I think that’s a good decision.”

Eldorado football coach Charlie Dotson said he took the NMAA decisions “kind of with a grain of salt,” because “the NMAA has their protocols and then all the school districts have their protocols.”

The NMAA board voted in favor to eliminate the minimum contest requirement for an individual’s eligibility to participate in the postseason. Previously, athletes had to compete in 25 percent of their regular season to be eligible for the postseason. So those boys and girls doing two sports that overlap next year – like wrestling and track and field, NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said to the board as an example – can still have a chance to qualify for the postseason in both.

The NMAA board also voted in favor to add policies addressing games/events missed due to COVID-19, meaning the board does not want to penalize schools that miss contests due to COVID-19. Marquez said any missed events will be considered no contests rather than forfeits, with an effort to try to make them up if possible.

Also, if the coronavirus makes it impossible for every school in a district to play a full league schedule, then winning percentage in district games will be used to determine the champion.

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