You might need to switch to a new channel if you want to watch the boys’ and girls’ basketball championship games this winter.

The Maine Principals’ Association announced Tuesday it has opened a bidding process for the rights to televise the regional boys’ and girls’ basketball semifinals and finals, as well as the state basketball finals, in February, possibly ending a 36-year affiliation with Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

The MPA is expanding the basketball field to five enrollment classes this winter. Tournament games will be played at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor (Class B, C and D North), the Augusta Civic Center (Class AA and A North, C and D South) and Cross Insurance Arena in Portland (Class AA, A and B South).

MPBN officials say they are unable to guarantee coverage of all the regional semifinals and finals.

“We just don’t have the infrastructure to do it,” said MPBN spokesman Cory Morrissey. “We’re a small organization and in the past we have relied on media partners in helping us out in carrying games. We’ve rented equipment. A good number of our staff has volunteered to man the cameras and pull the cords on the court.

“We’ve called in every favor we can in the past. We’re a very mom-and-popish outfit.”

MPBN started broadcasting championship games from the Bangor Auditorium in 1979. Last year, MPBN paid the MPA $16,000 for the rights to broadcast state title games – along with regional semifinals and finals – from Augusta and Bangor.

In October, MPBN submitted a bid to broadcast just the 10 state championship games – boys’ and girls’ games from three sites on Feb. 26 and 27 – but the MPA rejected that proposal, according to Morrissey.

Dick Durost, the executive director of the MPA, said it would be preferable to have one outfit broadcast all the games, including the regional semifinals and finals. But he doesn’t know if there is anyone who can provide that coverage.

“In an ideal world, you hope a single entity, or a combination of stations, put in a bid to cover all three sites, including the semifinals, finals and states, with close to statewide coverage,” he said. “I know it might be difficult for any station with an affiliation to a national network to free up that much time.

“There might be separate entities in each of the communities that put in a bid for one of those sights. That’s our second preference. We’re looking to get television coverage and have it as broad-based as possible.”

Bids are also being taken for live web streaming. Bids will be taken until Nov. 13, though the MPA notes in a press release that it can change that date “if deemed necessary.”

The new MPA tournament schedule, said Morrissey, would increase the number of regional games to be broadcast from 42 last year to 70 this year.

“We can’t get to that number,” he said.

That increase would include regional games from Portland, which have been televised by Time Warner Cable for at least five years.

Durost said the MPA was not asking MPBN to increase its coverage to include Portland. “There was no pressure on them to expand to the semifinals and finals in Portland,” he said. “In our conversations with them, it was to do the same.”

But Morrissey said MPBN officials believed the bids needed to include all regional games. “It was our understanding that we had to bid on the entire package,” he said. “We don’t go into the bidding process saying we’ll do these games and combine and go in with (someone else) on others.”

And that’s why MPBN informed the MPA that it couldn’t do the regional games and bid only on the championship games. Morrissey said the MPBN will resubmit its bid for $10,000 to the MPA for the championship games. The bid will also include broadcasting the cheering state championships and a rebroadcast on Feb. 28 of all state basketball championships games.

“That would create a championship weekend, a way to celebrate basketball across the state,” said Morrissey, the director of marketing and underwriting for the MPBN.

He said the bid “is a statement. We’re saying we really want to do this. We want to win the bid.”

There is no minimum bid for the rights. “People can put their heads together and see what they can do,” said Durost. “We’re not going to give this away, it’s a product and a part of the sport that really carries the load for a lot of the other activities that we do. We have to recognize that there is something of value there.”

A Time Warner Cable official said Tuesday it was too early to determine whether that cable company would put in a bid.

Morrissey noted that MPBN has lost between $20,000 and $30,000 each year broadcasting the tournament.

Durost and Morrissey said the relationship between the MPA and MPBN has been a good one. Not only is MPBN on cable, but can also be seen with over-the-air antennas, providing coverage to the entire state. “It’s been a good relationship for us, good for them and even better for the citizens of Maine,” said Durost. “People enjoy this.”

But MPBN’s inability to broadcast all the regional games led the MPA to look for other options.

“We just felt that if they could not do the regional semifinals and finals, we should put the bid out there because there might be someone willing to do all aspects of the tournament,” said Durost. “In fairness to everyone, we felt we should put it out there.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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