SVSJ commentary: WIAA state basketball tournaments could change next school year; what are our thoughts?

Good Monday morning. Hope everyone enjoyed our commentary yesterday. We know and recognize that some of you may have disagreed with our view of the current situation as it pertains to the stay-at-home orders and their impacts on youth sports, so if you want to send us a letter to the editor or offer a counterpoint view, feel free to do so and we’ll run those this week. Email those to snovalleysports@gmail.com with your name and hometown. We had one of our regular readers, who is involved with local youth athletics, point out to us via our Twitter feed @snovalleysports that valuing life above all else is an honorable approach and that Gov. Inslee’s approach is more conservative than other places for this reason. Which is fair, to be sure, and we thank that reader for his comments.

With that housekeeping out of the way, we have another commentary this morning and we get back in our lane so to speak, “sticking to sports.” We are discussing this morning proposed changes to the state high school basketball tournament format, and our views on these changes.

Mount Si High School head boys’ basketball coach Jason Griffith (center) is seen here talking to his players during a game at the 2020 WIAA state 4A high school basketball tournament in Tacoma. The association is exploring changers to the event for next year. Players seated L-R: Bennett O’Connor, Hayden Curtiss, Tyler Patterson, Quin Patterson and Jabe Mullins. Among the others in the photo looking on, they include assistant coaches Scott Reid and Cole Westover (both at left), players Zach Soliday, Jack Williams, Kevin Cole, Tyler Clem, Parker Wutherich and Miles Heide, and assistant coach C.J. Stanford (standing to Griffith’s left, right center). (File, photo courtesy Calder Productions)

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association late last week unveiled a trio of proposed format changes to Washington’s state high school basketball tournaments for both boys and girls, in an effort to do several things, not the least of which was perhaps make more money.

There is public feedback being taken on the changes now and you can go to the WIAA’s website which we have linked in our news links at right and find their story about this to submit your viewpoints.

Here is a quick look at the three options:

Option 1: Regional and “super regional” rounds to be played at neutral high school sites with all games single-elimination and no protection of top seeds; semifinals and finals at Tacoma Dome (2A-4A boys and girls) and eastern Washington site (1A and B classes)

Option 2: Regional round at neutral high school site, super-regional round to be played at Yakima Sun Dome and all of those first two rounds of games like Option 1 to be single-elimination again with no protection of top seeds; semifinals and finals at Tacoma and eastern Washington site similar to Option 1

Option 3: First two rounds at Yakima Sun Dome with those being double-elimination; semifinals and finals at Tacoma (2A-4A) and Spokane (1A and B).

There are many reasons for the proposed changes. Money is one of them. According to the WIAA, all of the proposed options would see the organization generate more revenue than this past year’s tournaments, in some cases perhaps in the neighborhood of $300,000 more.

So which option do we prefer? Simple. Option 3. Coaches are most likely to favor this option to begin with as it would ensure double-elimination in those first two rounds. The single elimination notion of Options 1 and 2 are concerns to us. First off, the association wants to maintain the existing regional format for both options, then perhaps do a second regional option – or Yakima – for the second round of games. Well, if those games are going to be single elimination, and part of this is trying to reduce expenses by not having three separate sites for the state tournaments, why don’t you just do those two rounds of games at home sites? You’d save the rental fees and it would provide local communities a chance to go see teams play at home if those teams have earned that opportunity and support. You know, if Mount Si High School’s boys had that for this year’s tournament, it’s our guess the new gym would have been packed to the gills for both of those games.

There is one major drawback to option 3, and also this applies to option 2 as well: Midweek games at Yakima, especially if they will be single elimination, are likely, especially for the higher classifications, not going to be well-attended, as a lot of Western Washington fans will not make the trip over for obvious reasons. We trust that schools who travel well will continue to do so, but regular fans may not want to make that trip for those games. So that is an issue that the association will have to work with as it explores these options more fully.
With all that said, we want to offer our own proposal now for the state tournaments, which focuses on some of the things we discussed.

For all classifications, you would have the first two rounds – single elimination – at home sites. Round one would be the Saturday before state finals weekend and the second round would be the following Tuesday before the semifinals and finals the following Friday and Saturday. Semis and finals we would suggest should be held at the following venues:

B: Spokane, but at Gonzaga University with some games at Whitworth University
1A, 2A: Yakima SunDome or Toyota Center, Kennewick
3A, 4A: Alaska Airlines Arena, University of Washington, Seattle with some games at Brougham Pavilion, Seattle Pacific University

You notice of course who’s not in our suggested list – the Tacoma Dome. The WIAA’s deteriorating business relationship with the Dome, punctuated by the high-profile exit of the state high school football championships after the 2018 season and the resulting problems with last year’s title games that resulted from that exit, provides at least to us a reason for the association to explore changing the venue location for those higher classification events to one that students, coaches and families will more likely enjoy. The opportunity to play for a high school basketball championship on a home court some of them might play their college ball at will be something that kids will cherish we expect. Same for the “B” school players as well in Spokane. We know the Arena has been treated well by those kids for many years as they see that as a big stage to be sure, but a chance to play in the vaunted “Kennel” might take that to the stratosphere for them.

Television was of course an issue this year with the finals not being televised by ROOT Sports for the first time in years, as we have noted in the past a likely casualty of last fall’s football site dabacle. So how would you televise everything? Well, in our plan, the 3A and 4A finals since those would be at the UW – throw those on Pac-12 Washington. The other classifications can be shown on SWX with Western Washington audiences seeing those games on a channel both SWX and the WIAA would work with for carriage of the games. For the options that are being considered by the WIAA, option 3 would provide the most potential coverage of games, with all of the Yakima games potentially being available in some fashion via SWX or webstreams, and the state finals in the classifications either being on SWX or some other local outlet.

In all, we think the changes being explored by the association are timely, especially in an era where programs all over this state – and their schools for that matter – are likely to see dramatically reduced revenues thanks to the pandemic, something which of course we discussed yesterday. It is possible that if the revenues decrease even more in the coming years, you may see them go to home sites for those first games to save money. We think though this association can do better, and our plan provides them a chance to do just that. We would call on the association to look at Option 3 for their set of plans, but to also give our plan strong consideration as well.

Rhett Workman

About Rhett Workman

Rhett Workman is the editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Sports Journal. Workman is a veteran sports journalist, having covered Snoqualmie Valley sports for nearly a decade with the Snoqualmie Valley Record newspaper before starting up the SVSJ. Workman's coverage has earned the support and respect of Valley coaches, players, parents and fans, and the SVSJ continues the standard of coverage that Workman brought to the Valley Record.
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