Happy medium for state tournaments

Paul Valencia: High school sports column

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

Selfishly, I want more.

I want more basketball games to cover. More days in the Tacoma Dome. More. More. More.

Still, it is understandable what the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association set out to do this year. Instead of the traditional 16-team, double-elimination tournaments, the WIAA went with opening round sites throughout the state. (Well, maybe not throughout. How about a bunch of places other than Southwest Washington?) The idea was to save money.

While official financial numbers will not be publicly released for about a month, it makes sense that the WIAA did save cents. Take the 4A and 3A state tournaments. Usually, it takes four days for the 4A boys and girls and four more days for the 3A boys and girls. That’s eight days in the dome. Under this year’s format, they got all four tournaments in the dome in three days — total. That’s saving a lot in rental costs.

Now that basketball players, coaches, fans, and yes, the media, have experienced the first year of this new format, it appears most people did not like change.

While some of those opening round sites were packed with fans, others were full of crickets. Most of the coaches I spoke with said it sure did not have the “feel” of the state tournament. Instead, it was just like an extension of district or bi-district tournaments. Nothing special.

“It felt like state to us because we’d never been there,” Evergreen girls coach Jay Foreman said with a laugh, referring to his team’s journey to Richland for the opening round of the 4A tournament. “But obviously, I would have loved for the kids to have a more enriching experience.”

So, here’s a tweak to the new system, courtesy of a coach who knows a thing or two about state tournaments.

Al Aldridge, who has coached the Prairie girls to 14 consecutive state tournament appearances, said there is a happy medium here that allows for a 16-team bracket in the dome but only five days of rental.

On Tuesday, all 32 teams — 16 from the 3A girls and 16 from the 3A boys — play the first-round games. Single-elimination. On Wednesday, all 32 of the 4A teams play single-elimination, first-round games.

Then on Thursday, the eight remaining teams in each tournament go to double-elimination for the all the trophies, just like this year’s Thursday-through-Saturday format.

The drawback: Teams that travel to Tacoma will not be guaranteed two games. So what: The Evergreen girls and boys traveled to Richland for the opening round games and were both one-and-done.

Another weird thing about this year’s format was the whittling down of four teams to two teams from each site of the opening round. Not only was it possible for a team to lose its first-round state game and still win the championship, it actually happened — three times.

The Clover Park boys lost their opening round game, then won the play-in game before running the table in Yakima for the 2A championship. Reardon (2B girls) and Colton (1B girls) did the same thing.

All the more strange, Clover Park and Colton ended up beating the same teams in the finals that beat them in the opening round. Doesn’t seem fair for those second-place teams to have had to beat the same team twice in the same tournament to win a state championship.

Lakes, meanwhile, won the 3A boys title and had to win five state playoff games to do it — one more than in the traditional format.

WIAA leaders have said all along that after going through this season of change, they would be open to suggestions for improvement. If you go to the association’s website — www.wiaa.com — you will see they really mean it. The WIAA wants to hear from you with its state basketball survey, up now through March 14.

Personally, I’d go with the Aldridge Plan. There is no perfect scenario, but the return to 16 teams at one site would bring back the “buzz” of a state tournament.

One-and-done at the dome is about a million times better than one-and-done in Richland.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail atpaul.valencia@columbian.com.