WIAA bracketing may not always be fair to all

Tim Martinez: High School Sports column

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant sports editor

Published:

 

If you were to just glance at some of spring state tournament brackets for the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, you’d think they’re just messed up.

But if you took time to learn about how those brackets are assembled, you’d think ... well, you’d still think they’re messed up, but at least you’d understand why they’re messed up.

And that brings us to the Camas boys soccer team — a squad that has gone out and won just about every game it has played this season with a suffocating defense.

The Papermakers have won their past four matches by a combined score of 24-0. They have only allowed eight goals in 17 matches all season, and they are ranked third in the state by the Seattle Times.

Camas beat Auburn Mountainview on Saturday in a bi-district playoff to earn the No. 1 seed from District 3/4 to the 3A state tournament.

And what is the Papermakers’ reward for all of that success?

A matchup against top-ranked Shorecrest of Shoreline at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Doc Harris Stadium.

Again, at first glance, you’d look at that and think, “How the heck does that happen?”

Well, we’ll try to explain and hopefully make sense of it, knowing that we’ll probably fail.

The state is divided into geographic districts, usually aligned by grouping neighboring counties.

The WIAA will take the 16 berths to the state tournament and allocate them to each district based proportionally on the number of schools that compete in a particular sport in that district.

Sometimes, neighboring districts will pool their state berths in an effort to provide more opportunities for their teams to reach state. That’s what happens with Districts 3 and 4 in the Class 4A and 3A.

Once each district has received its state berth allocations from the WIAA, half of their allocations are considered top seeds and the other half are bottom seeds.

Then each state tournament bracket is assembled by randomly matching top seeds against bottom seeds, with considerations given to keep teams from the east side on the east side in the opening round and to make sure teams from the same district or bi-district don’t meet in the first round.

So, often, there is no advantage of being a No. 1 seed from a district as opposed to being a No. 2 seed, provided both teams are considered “top seeds.”

The random nature of this selection process leads to some odd and unfortunate matchups, like No. 3 Camas facing No. 1 Shorecrest in the first round.

You see, Shorecrest plays in District 1, which received three berths to state — one top seed and two bottom seeds.

As of last Monday, District 1 had the top two ranked teams in the state — Shorecrest and Glacier Peak.

On Friday, Glacier Peak beat Shorecrest for the District 1 title and took the district’s No. 1 seed to state. Shorecrest was the No. 2 seed, which was considered a bottom seed in the state bracket.

So, while No. 1 Shorecrest meets No. 3 Camas in the first round, Wilson of Tacoma, the No. 2 seed from District 3/4, will face Mount Vernon, the No. 3 team from District 1.

So, to review, Camas, the No. 1 seed from District 3/4, plays Shorecrest, the No. 2 team from District 1. And Wilson, the No. 2 seed from District 3/4, plays Mount Vernon, the No. 3 team from District 1.

In fact, Shorecrest actually beat Mount Vernon in the District 1 tournament.

And it’s not just soccer. Take a look at what happened in the 1A state baseball tournament.

On Friday, Kalama beat Rainier to earn the No. 3 seed from District 4. For its effort, Kalama will travel to Anacortes to play Meridian, the No. 1 team from District 1/2/3, in the state tournament.

Rainier, the No. 4 seed from District 4, will travel to Castle Rock to play Chimacum, the No. 2 team from District 1/2/3.

So for winning the third-place game at district, Kalama will have to travel farther and play a tougher team than Rainier.

Football coaches in the state have become so frustrated with the fluky nature of these state pairings that they’ve begun to discuss adopting a system similar to the one Oregon adopted this past year.

Oregon’s system takes a team’s win-loss record, the win-loss records of their opponents and of their opponents’ opponents to derive a rating system by which teams are seeded into the bracket. It’s kind of like the RPI used to seed teams in the NCAA college basketball tournaments.

But as coaches in Oregon will tell you, that system is not perfect.

And other coaches will say that if you want to win a state championship, you have to play tough teams at some point.

In other words, if Camas gets past Shorecrest, the Papermakers may get a weaker opponent in the quarterfinals. If Camas met a weaker opponent in the first round and Shorecrest in the second round, would as many people be as upset about the state tournament pairings?

Camas hopes to compete for a state championship in soccer. And the Papermakers knew to do that, they were going to have to face a tough team like Shorecrest at some point. So why not play Shorecrest in the first round ... at home ... on a school night when Shorecrest will have to travel three-plus hours to play.

In the end, there may be a better solution for setting a state tournament bracket.

But it’s not going to be in play this season.

The only thing teams like the Camas boys soccer team can do is play the games scheduled for them and try to win.

That’s because complaining about funky state pairings won’t change a thing ... at least not this year.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached by phone at (360) 735-4538 or email attim.martinez@columbian.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/360TMart