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Maine Principals' Association Puts Basketball TV Rights Out To Bid

For 36 years, it has been a seasonal tradition. The Maine Public Broadcasting Network has televised the high school basketball tournament.

The event has grown over time, and MPBN has recently produced and broadcast more than 40 games annually. But Tuesday, the Maine Principal's Association requested bids to find another broadcaster to cover the games.

The move came as a surprise to many Mainers, who are accustomed to watching MPBN’s basketball broadcasts in February and March. And it signals a ruptured partnership between MPBN and the Maine Principals' Association.

“This was initiated by MPBN, not by us," says Dick Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals' Association. "We were certainly looking to continue what has been a great relationship for decades."

He says the tournament has become more complex this year, as the state moves from four classes of schools to five, playing games in Augusta, Bangor and Portland.

"So we were essentially looking at continuing the same relationship we had, except with the knowledge that there would be four classes being played in Augusta instead of three," Durost says. "And again we were simply told that it was a decision made due to the amount of hours, manpower and equipment, that it would take to be able to continue in the manner that we had been doing this before."

But Cory Morrissey, director of marketing and public relations for MPBN, says it is just not possible to cover the games as it has in the past.

"With the addition of the fifth class, now there are games taking place concurrently in three different locations, and there aren't enough resources, manpower, things we can borrow, things we can rent, to really be able to deliver that number of games concurrently, at three different locations," he says. "It's the tipping point."

Morrissey says that MPBN first asked the MPA if it was possible to change the schedule of some games to make it easier to cover the tournament. And last month MPBN offered to broadcast a pared-down schedule, covering just the ten final games, but MPA rejected that proposal.

Still, Morrissey says MPBN made that offer again today, in a formal bid.

"MPBN is completely committed to basketball," he says. "And we are hoping, as an organization, that we are able to do these ten games, do them well, and really be able to feature the girls and boys of Maine playing hoops across the state."

It is hard to overstate the importance of the tournament to many Mainers, especially in small towns.

Beth Staples played in the tournament for Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, coached Searsport teams to the tournament, and does color analysis from the games for 92.9 FM in Bangor. She says part of the appeal is that the tournament games are just plain exciting.

"I think people like to watch magic in a bottle," she says. "And they like to watch teams catch fire, and sometimes players catch fire. And you will just see these incredible performances that are very dramatic, whether is a five overtime win, or somebody has a 50-point game, or somebody hits a half-court shot at the buzzer. I mean, those moments of magic do happen."

Morrissey says he still hopes MPBN will be there to share that magic. If not, Durost sees three possible solutions: contracting with another statewide broadcaster, contracting with several stations in different markets or simply streaming the games over the Internet.

According to Durost, bidders have until Nov. 13 to submit competing offers.