“It’s going to take a lot of work.”
This is what Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) executive director Mike Colbrese said concerning proposed major changes to the state basketball tournament format and seeding criteria currently being considered.
A select WIAA committee is preparing to recommend a return to a 16-team basketball tournament format for all state classifications, as reported by Greg Lee of The Spokesman Review. The committee plans to present the format change to the executive board for consideration during its June 5-6 meetings. If approved, this proposal could go into effect beginning with the 2016-17 school year.
The suggested new format calls for the 16-team state tournaments being held over consecutive weekends. The first weekend would be a loser-out single-elimination event where the competing teams would be pared down to four survivors.
Those four teams would then meet the following weekend in a Final Four setting to determine a state champion in all classifications. Winners of the first day’s games would meet the following day to decide a state champion. Losers would play for third and fourth places.
Schools throughout the state have been calling for a return to the former 16-team tournament format.
They may balk, however, at the piece of the proposal that divides the event into two separate weekends. This would require double travel expenses for the Final Four teams in each classification that would play on the second weekend.
If, for example, a Chewelah basketball team made it into the 16-team first round of the tournament in Yakima, would they be willing to make a trip back to Yakima or another site for the second weekend of Final Four play?
Or, would Chewelah administrators, coaches, players, and fans prefer to hold the entire tournament at one site during one week?
Those questions would have to be answered by every WIAA member school in the state if this proposal is considered acceptable by the executive board and is then sent out to the schools for their consideration and input.
The reason why the WIAA executive board would approve this proposal is that it would generate more attendance, and, thus, more revenue to pay for the tournaments. Families usually have weekends free. Husbands and wives who work on Wednesdays and Thursdays may not be able to attend on those days. But, they would be able to attend on both weekends.
The accompanying part of the committee’s proposal would change how the teams are paired for opening-round state tournament games. The committee will propose a computer-based ranking system employing RPI (Rating Percentage Index). This is the same system used by the NCAA to pair its men’s and women’s regional rounds of its March Madness end of the season tournament. Using RPI, the 16 state tournament teams would be paired to play like this: 1 against 16, 2 against 15, 3 against 14, and so forth, according to their computer- generated rankings.
This new method of pairing first round teams would replace the current process of seeding or of drawing team names out of a hat to fill the brackets. Often, using this present method, the best teams in the bracket often play each other early in the tournament, not in the semifinal or championship rounds.
The problem with using an RPI to rank state teams is that teams have few common opponents.
Teams here on the east side of the state do not often play teams on the west side during the regular season, so there are very few scores to compare.
Our Northeast A League teams do not usually play King’s, Hoquiam, Zillah, Kalama, Granger, Nooksack Valley, Montesano, Lynden Christian, or Columbia-Burbank before tournament time.
So, how can a statewide RPI make a comparison and spit out an inclusive list of ranked teams?
The RPI systems used by college and professional sports to rank teams look at a team’s win-loss record and its strength of schedule.
The index calculates a ranking based on a team’s winning percentage, its opponent’s winning percentage, and the winning percentage of their opponents’ opponents.
College and professional sports teams play opponents throughout the nation, so it is easy to calculate an RPI. With state high school sports, it becomes much more difficult.
Winning percentages, of course, would be easy to determine for all state teams. Opponents’ winning percentages would also be easy to calculate. Gathering and inputting the scores of opponent’s opponents will be the challenging piece to the proposal, but, with the right RPI software, the entire process could become manageable.
However, as previously stated, when teams restrict their schedules to only local opponents, a state ranking will still be difficult to compute, because there will be no cross-section of scores. Therefore, to make this work, leagues within each classification would have to be encouraged by the WIAA to play non-league games against each other, in spite of the excess travel.
Other states like Oregon have gone to the RPI method of ranking high school teams, so it could also work for Washington. The WIAA committee has a month to solidify its two proposals before presenting them to the executive board. Both proposals definitely merit consideration.
Nonetheless, as Colbrese said, “It’s going to take a lot of work.”
By Geno Ludwig
Geno is the sports reporter for The Chewelah Independent