Why tinker with the Ben Francis Cup KO?
There is a popular saying, "If it ain't broken, don't fix it."
That saying rushed into my mind earlier this week when my colleague, The Gleaner's western bureau sportswriter, Paul Clarke, told me that unlike in former years, this year's Ben Francis Cup Knockout Competition will be contested by the daCosta Cup quarter-finalists, not the respective zone winners.
In looking at the issue, it would appear that, for reasons best known to the Inter-Secondary School Sports Association (ISSA), which oversees the various sporting competitions in high schools, they have decided that the new format, which in my opinion is of no greater value than which prior existed, is better.
I preferred the old format because it offers the teams in the respective preliminary zones a special incentive to strive for topping their zone, not only to gain bragging rights, but for the tangible reward of earning a place in the Ben Francis KO Cup.
Now, with nothing special on offer for topping the zone, there is no real incentive for a team to work hard to finish zone winner, because if the team finishes in second place, it carries the same weight as topping the zone as both are guaranteed places in the competition's Inter-zone round.
I don't know about the other regions of the island, but here in western Jamaica where I live, this change has robbed fans of one of the major highlights of the tournament - a mad scramble to top the zone and earn a slot in the coveted Ben Francis KO Cup.
I know for sure that it has taken out the sting out of popular do-or-die derby games for group honours in groups like Zone A, where there is a solid rivalry between Cornwall College and St. James High; in Zone B, where the St Elizabeth versus Munro clash is usually highly anticipated, and in Zone E, where Rusea's versus Green Island is usually considered a not to be missed game.
While bragging rights might still hold some importance, especially among the fans, I get the distinct feeling that, with the biggest incentive off the table, it is unlikely that the young footballer will have the vibrancy and urgency required to drive their passion to do well, at this stage of the competition. It could even cost them to lose perspective and momentum.
While many persons might consider my concerns as no more than a storm in a small teacup, I can remember when Jamaica used to have a proper national premier league football competition, featuring at least one team from all 14 parishes. For reasons still unclear, the Jamaica Football Federation tinkered with the league and look what we have today, a rubbish league being contested by teams from just six of the nation's 14 parishes.
I am thinking that instead of interfering with the structure of the Ben Francis Cup, ISSA would have been better served by using the old format, and having the finalists in the Ben Francis Cup and the finalists in the Urban Walker Cup squaring off in all island KO competition for the FLOW Cup.
While I can buy into the initiatives of staging night games, which will allow the players to play in much friendlier temperature alongside creating the scope for their parents, who might be forced to miss day time games because of work, to attend matches, I can't seem to find any to justify the changes to the Ben Francis Cup.
Personally, I would really like to hear ISSA's rationale. In addition, knowing that the new format could cause the competition to lose some of its traditional impact, I think the onus is on ISSA to say the circumstances which caused them to change a situation that has been working quite well for so many years.
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