The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association on Saturday, March 1, completed its fourth season under a regional format it began using for the 2010-11 season for the first round of its boys' and girls' high school basketball tournaments.
Rather than sending 16 schools to each of its 12 state tournaments, the regional rounds trim the fields in half, and in the process, reduce the cost of running each tournament. With the change, the WIAA now needs to lease Spokane Arena, the Yakima Valley SunDome and that Tacoma Dome for three days each over one weekend, rather than needing to secure venues for six four-day tournaments, as it did before.
The travel cost of sending 192 teams to the state tournaments, also significantly was cut by the change.
Despite the savings, not everyone is happy with the change.
In a letter from the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches' Association released by Squalicum boys' coach Dave Dickson late Saturday after the conclusion of regional play, the WIBCA termed the new format "regrettable."
"Instead of chanting 'ON TO STATE' and enjoying the classic 16-team tournament, regionals cut short the seasons of 96 boys' and girls' basketball teams across the state," the letter read. "For a fourth year these 96 teams, about 1,152 players along with their respective families, fans, cheerleaders, dance/drill teams, and bands, are denied the state experience. These teams, who have played by the WIAA slogan 'Just Play Fair' would be happy to just play."
Though the WIBCA letter acknowledged the savings under the new format, it said that, "these savings come at a very high price: lost memories, lost dreams and lost learning opportunities for countless young people throughout our state."
The WIBCA said that staging single-elimination regional games at high school venues, "pales in comparison to the promise and excitement of the big tournament in Spokane, Yakima or Tacoma."
The letter went on to list the 96 teams that were eliminated in this year's regionals, including the Bellingham and Ferndale girls' teams and the Sehome boys' team.
Harlan Kredit, the District 1 representative on the WIAA's Executive Board, said the board has not convened since the release of the letter, and therefore had no official response at this time.
He did say, however, that the WIAA will once again review the tournament format this summer.
"Every summer, we review every one of the tournaments to ensure we're doing the best job we can for the greatest number of students," Kredit said in a phone interview on Monday, March 3. "We recognize that it might adversely affect some students, but our goal is to do the best we can for the greatest number."
To that end, the WIAA made some changes to this year's regional format to help alleviate some previous concerns.
Rather than assigning which seeds were playing where out of the district qualifying tournaments, as it has done in the past, the WIAA simply announced a list of approved regional sites before the district tournaments began this year. After the tournaments were completed and the regional match ups set, the WIAA then set about the process of scheduling where and when those games would be played in an effort to keep top seeds closer to home.
"The athletic directors I have spoken to really appreciated that they didn't have to travel as far for their regional," Kredit said. "Obviously, some teams had to travel. Look at Freeman (which traveled to Mount Vernon to face Lynden Christian on Saturday). They were the No. 4 seed out of their (district), and the lower seeds had to travel further. We wanted there to be some benefits for getting the higher seeds."
Other benefits included the ability to schedule boys' and girls' games back-to-back at one site when both teams qualified.
Lynden fans got to take advantage of this new rule, as the Lions girls played Olympic right before the Lynden boys tipped off against Sumner on Saturday at Mount Vernon.
"It was a huge amount of work to schedule it," Kredit said. "It took about six hours to sort it all out. We had a lot of schools that were doubles, and most of the schools were very gracious that we were able to do it this year."
The new format also prevented schools from playing regionals on their home court, something that many coaches said previously created an unfair advantage.
"According to a lot of the feedback I've gotten from a number of different schools and different athletic directors, it was pretty positive this year," Kredit said. "It was a long involved process, but overall, we're very pleased. Of course we're going to look at everything this summer, like we do every tournament, and see if there is a way we can improve it."
Whatcom County sent seven teams to the regional round last weekend, and four advanced and will be competing in Yakima beginning with the state quarterfinals on Thursday, March 6.
The Lynden girls will get things started at 10:30 a.m. when they take on Port Angeles in the Class 2A tournament. The Lynden Christian girls will follow at 5:30 p.m. against Granger in the 1A tournament. The Blaine girls also qualified for the 1A bracket, and will face Mabton at 9 p.m. in the final game of the day. On the other court at the SunDome at the same time, the Lynden boys will face Hockinson in the 2A tournament.
Thursday, March 6, at Yakima Valley SunDome
CLASS 2A GIRLS
Lynden vs. Port Angeles, 10:30 a.m.
CLASS 1A GIRLS
Lynden Christian vs. Granger, 5:30 p.m.
Blaine vs. Mabton, 9 p.m.
CLASS 2A BOYS
Hockinson vs. Lynden, 9 p.m.
Reach David Rasbach at 360-715-2286 or email@example.com .