The semifinals of the state high school football tournament will not be played at the Tacoma Dome next year.
And maybe not the state championships, either.
Mike Colbrese, the executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, said Thursday that the state’s nonprofit governing body for high school sports would prefer to keep the state championships in the Tacoma Dome, but it is exploring other options, including the University of Washington.
The WIAA will decide by its next executive board meeting on Jan. 24-25, Colbrese said.
“We are really right now deciding on finals and whether those will stay in the Tacoma Dome,” Colbrese said Wednesday. “Or what other options there are.
“But semifinals will definitely be outside.”
The Tacoma Dome opened in 1983. It has been hosting the state semifinals every year since 1984, but its most recent five-year contract ended this past season.
Colbrese said the cost to play in the Tacoma Dome, which is owned by the city of Tacoma and is the state’s largest indoor venue, was increasing at a rate the WIAA couldn’t handle.
It cost $46,640 for the WIAA to hold the state semifinals and finals at the Tacoma Dome this past year, according to the organization’s most recent meeting minutes. City of Tacoma representatives projected it would cost $45,000 per weekend in 2016; $52,500, plus an additional $1 per ticket surcharge, in 2017; and $62,500 in 2018.
“We still feel we are by far the best venue, especially at that time of year,” said Tacoma Dome director Kim Bedier. “And it’s such a tradition. Kids spend their whole high school career aiming to be in the finals at the Dome. And (if that doesn’t happen) it certainly wouldn’t be because we didn’t make every effort to try and keep them here.”
Colbrese said the state semifinals will move to various neutral-site locations.
The setup will be the same as how schools in eastern Washington currently play their semifinal football games. Locations for this past season’s semifinals included Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco (Gonzaga Prep vs. Richland; Liberty Christian vs. Almira/Coulee-Hartline), Zaepfel Stadium in Yakima (Sedro-Woolley vs. Prosser) and Lions Field in Moses Lake (Connell vs. Royal; Okanogan vs. Northwest Christian of Colbert).
“(Eastern Washington teams) have been pushing us for years to have the semifinals outside,” Colbrese said. “They believed that those teams that got to play in the Tacoma Dome for the semifinals had the advantage because they got to play there again the next week if they won.”
That will mean some semifinal sites will host more than one game in a day.
“We’ll do kind of like we do for the east side,” Colbrese said. “We’ll pick some sites that make sense, then as the bracket plays out, look at those.”
The WIAA was in line to spend less money in the first year of the proposed three-year deal through 2018. The Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission offered a $34,000 subsidy over the three years to offset those costs.
Dean Burke, the commission’s executive director, said the subsidy is still on the table if the WIAA were to keep the state championships at the Tacoma Dome, even without the semifinals — only the subsidy would be cut in half.
“It’s very much an emotional issue,” Burke said. “The venue was darn near built for that kind of thing: Get football in there. It’s got a long-standing legacy.”
The WIAA also holds the state boys and girls basketball tournaments, the state boys and girls wrestling championships and state gymnastics at the Tacome Dome.
“Obviously, we are a great partner with the WIAA,” Bedier said. “That is part of our mandate — to serve the community and the sporting community. We are excited to have them because we’ve been working with them, as we’ve discovered, for almost the entire life of the building.”