Too soon? Early Craig-Parker boys game a slog
Janesville Parker’s gymnasium was mostly full Tuesday night.
Both the Parker and Craig student sections were out in force, and there was a buzz in the air even fresh off the heels of football season.
Still, something didn’t feel quite right.
Typically, the city’s basketball teams are rarely on the court before the Thanksgiving. But this year, not only were the Cougars and Vikings playing two nights before the holiday, they were playing each other in a bizarrely early crosstown Big Eight Conference rivalry game.
“It was very strange that we’re playing a rivalry game and opening conference game,” Parker coach Ryan Masterson admitted after his team fell, 73-52. “Often our first conference game isn’t until after Thanksgiving, and here we are playing them. But it was a good crowd and a good atmosphere.”
Indeed, credit Janesville basketball fans of all ages for kicking off the basketball season in style. Unfortunately, the game they witnessed didn’t exactly match that swagger.
That is not meant to discredit the energy or effort put forth by the Vikings and Cougars—they certainly showed those traits. But like scores of other teams around the state, Craig and Parker are spending the first couple weeks of their seasons finding their on-court identities and sorting out their roles.
Between turnovers, errant full-court passes, fouls and rebounding difficulties, neither team was exactly jumping for joy when the dust settled.
Fans deserve to see the two rival teams playing at their best, later in the season when it feels as if there is more on the line.
“There’s nothing we can do,” said Craig coach Mike Miller, who added it’s ideal to see the rivalry game on a weekend night.
Thanks to the rotating schedule falling as it does this year, one boys basketball crosstown game is already in the books, and the second meeting—at Craig—comes on Jan. 14, another Tuesday night meeting. If the Cougars and Vikings are to meet when basketball season is in its prime (February and March), it’d be a chance postseason meeting.
Why can’t the Big Eight Conference find a way to keep such rivalry games at the back end of the schedule?
It’s something that the league’s athletic directors have discussed, Craig AD Ben McCormick told me during a quick halftime chat when the Cougars were back at home on the court for a nonconference game Friday night.
But it sounds as though those discussions bring about more questions with it than answers. Among them:
• Does each Big Eight team have a natural archrival within the conference? (Not really).
• Does each school agree on who their rival is? (Not really, either. The two Janesville schools easily become natural rivals, but Beloit Memorial likely also sees Craig as its rival).
• Could playing such “rivaly games” in the last week of seasons be detrimental? (For instance, if two powerful, playoff-bound football programs consistently see each other in Week 9, it might not bode well for their postseason hopes).
Those are all fair questions, and kudos to the ADs for at least having the conversations and working toward solutions. They’ve even taken some action: McCormick said the league will go away from the rotating schedule after this season after the group decided to go with a more randomized approach.
But here’s hoping those discussions continue, because a randomized schedule won’t keep the Craig and Parker football teams—who had plenty to play for in an entertaining contest against each other in Week 9 despite neither having postseason implications—from playing in the first couple of weeks next season.
Perhaps teams that agree they are natural rivals can opt to play such games at or near the end of their schedules, with the remaining non-rival teams then randomized. Surely there must be a creative solution to be had.
Fans, coaches, parents and players deserve better for their storied rivalry.