Aiming to keep top players, Big 33 Football Classic moves to Memorial Day in 2019

The Big 33 Football Classic will move to Memorial Day in 2019, allowing coaches in Maryland and Pennsylvania to include more of the top college recruits in the senior all-star game.

“It helps us because kids don’t have to report [to college] that early. Usually if a kid has to report early, he’s going to report June 1. It should help with the availability of the five-star kids,” said Scott Ripley, coach of next year’s Maryland Big 33 team and the coach at St. Paul’s.

Since 2006, the game has been played in mid-June. That year, when Pennsylvania was in a 20-year rivalry with Ohio, the game shifted from mid-July. This year’s game was played June 16.

Even though Maryland won this year and has won three of the six meetings since the rivalry resumed in 2013, Ripley estimated that Maryland has lost about 10 top players each year because they have to report to their colleges.

“We had to try something, because we were losing out on a lot of kids,” Ripley said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what kids still commit to the game. The problem is if you’re a five-star kid, you might be starting as a freshman, so those kids might decide not to play.”

Two years ago, Big 33 officials attempted to move the game to Memorial Day, but they couldn’t find enough host families for the players. That won’t be a problem this year, said Garry Cathell, executive manager of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association, which runs the Big 33.

Pennsylvania officials certainly would like to keep their top players in an earlier game, too.

“Even though we have more kids and more schools,” Cathell said, “we still want to put the best team on the field, and when we were putting together our team over the past several years, one of the things that the players say is, ‘You know coach, we would play if it was before June 1. …’ This past year, we had selected 38, and 14 of the original 38 turned the game down but nine of those 14 said that they would have played.”

Cathell also said college coaches he has spoken with like having the game earlier, because if a player gets “a little bit banged up,” he has time to recover.

“They’re always trying to push me — ‘Garry, you’ve got to have this game in the winter. You’ve got to have it in December,’” Cathell said. “We can’t do that. There’s no place with a domed stadium where we could even think about doing something like that, so the happy medium is for us to try the Memorial Day game.”

The game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, May 27. Cathell said despite reports that it might move to Penn State, the Big 33 game will remain near Harrisburg, Pa., in Dauphin County. He expects to return to Landis Field at Central Dauphin Middle School where the game has been played the past two years after moving out of Hersheypark Stadium.

The new schedule may create conflicts with some players because of state championships in other sports or graduation, but those players will be allowed to arrive Saturday, said former Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall, president of the Baltimore Touchdown Club, which helps run Team Maryland.

Ripley, also vice president of the Maryland Football Coaches Association, said the change should not deter lower-rated prospects from trying out. A combine scheduled for this month has been canceled, but high school coaches can continue to nominate players, the staff will evaluate their film and a tryout will be held at the Ravens complex in the spring.

“Everybody should still try out,” Ripley said. “We are going to pick the best kids that are going to represent our state, that are going to play together as one group as a team. We don’t necessarily need the superstars. We need 38 guys that are going to have the same goal and work together.”

The 62nd annual game will have a military appreciation theme, Cathell said, as the Marine Corps has become a sponsor. The Buddies Program, which pairs each player with a special needs buddy, will also continue.

Maryland’s 9-6 win in June on River Hill kicker Cooper McGeehan’s third field goal of the game cut Pennsylvania’s lead in the series to 9-5. In addition to the past six years, the two states played from 1985 to 1992. Maryland has signed on to remain in the Big 33 Classic through 2022.

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