High School Basketball

Is eight enough when it comes to state basketball tournaments? WIAA says not anymore

Squalicum celebrates after beating Burlington-Edison 67-63 in the 2010 Class 2A boys’ basketball state title game in Yakima. The WIAA Monday announced changes to the state basketball tournament format.
Squalicum celebrates after beating Burlington-Edison 67-63 in the 2010 Class 2A boys’ basketball state title game in Yakima. The WIAA Monday announced changes to the state basketball tournament format. The Bellingham Herald

The executive board of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association on Monday, Sept. 27, voted to implement a change to the format for its boys and girls basketball state tournaments, increasing the size of the brackets that will play at state venues from eight to 12 teams in each classification.

The executive board also announced Monday that the WIAA will implement a Rating Percentage Index (RPI) system to seed teams that qualify for the regional round. The new format and the RPI system will go into effect for the 2016-17 season.

“Obviously, it’s a step in the right direction,” said Squalicum boys basketball coach Dave Dickson, who serves as the Hall of Fame organizer for the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association. He has been vocal in opposition to the WIAA’s 2011 decision to implement a regional round of the state tournament and shrink the number of teams that advance to state venues from 16 to eight.

“More participation in the state tournament is positive,” Dickson said. “Unfortunately, the WIAA did not follow the superintendents’ mandate to be inclusive enough for 16 teams.”

The mandate, Dickson said, was a poll of school district superintendents statewide earlier this year that showed 76 percent favored a return to a 16-team state tournament.

Since 2011, the WIBCA has opposed the elimination of eight teams in each bracket in the regional round before they get a full “state experience,” Dickson said.

With tournament fields expanding to 12 teams, approximately 500 more students and their communities will experience the WIAA’s Hardwood Classic in Tacoma (Class 4A and 3A), Yakima (2A and 1A) and Spokane (2B and 1B).

Changing brackets

Under the new format, the 16 teams that qualify in each classification will be seeded for the regional round, which still will be held at high schools the week before the Hardwood Classic. Teams seeded Nos. 1-8 will meet in non-elimination games, with winners receiving a bye into the state quarterfinals. Teams seeded Nos. 9-16 will play elimination games, with winners facing the losers of the games involving the top eight seeds in the first round at state venues the following week.

Those first-round games will be single elimination held Wednesday at state venues, and winners will move on to the double-elimination state quarterfinals Thursday. Six tournament trophies will continue to be awarded in each classification.

“I think the WIAA responded to the mandate of the superintendents’ survey that said 76 percent of superintends wanted a 16-team tournament,” Dickson said. “The WIAA responded by moving from eight to 12, but they didn’t really achieve the mandate asked for by superintendents.”

Potential drawbacks

The new format also could open the door for a couple of problems that arose in 2011 when the regionals were introduced.

First, including the regional round of state, teams could play five games, throwing off state tournament records. If the regional rounds do not count, many teams would play only three games, which also could impact records.

Second, teams could play one another twice in the same tournament under the new format if they play a non-elimination game in the regional round. In 2011, that happened to Squalicum, which beat Clover Park in the regional round, only to lose a rematch a week later in the Class 2A state championship game.

“If you beat a team, you should move into one part of the bracket and they should move into another part,” Dickson said. “There are a lot of interesting scenarios with this 12-team affair, but the good news is more teams are being included.”

Seeding brackets

The WIAA did not announce any details on the RPI system other than to say in the release, “The State Basketball Format Committee will continue to refine the details of the RPI system, which will not be used in the qualification to regional sites, only as a seeding tool after the qualifiers are in place.”

The RPI system should prevent situations such as one last year, when the top two boys teams in the Class 1A Associated Press state rankings – Lynden Christian and Zillah – met in an elimination game one step short of a state venue. The Leopards ended the Lyncs’ season with a 60-49 regional win. A year earlier, the third-ranked Lynden boys drew top-ranked Mark Morris in the Class 2A regional round under the WIAA’s old format, resulting in a 65-62 Lions loss.

“I think it’s going to take a couple of years for them to work everything out,” Dickson said. “But it fixes scenarios that are obviously a drawback – like Lynden Christian and Zillah meeting in the regional last year. ... That was not the way that anyone wanted to see that happen. That’s happened more often than casual fans can imagine. Hopefully we can eliminate those kinds of problems that we saw under the old system.”