New state tournament format receiving mixed feedback

By AnhViet Nguyen

A few weeks ago, the WIAA debuted a new regional format for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
Too bad it drew a fair amount of criticism.
The new regional format added another round to the state tournament, which meant only eight teams would make it to the Tacoma Dome, in the case of the 3A and 4A tournaments. That was only the first layer of confusion for many fans unable to distinguish the difference between regionals and state.
“The WIAA says that regionals are part of the state tournament. Well, you tell me when was the last time a team could lose in the state tournament then come back and win it,” MTHS men’s basketball head coach Nalin Sood said.
The list of issues doesn’t stop there though. The overall experience of the tournament, locations and venues, and seeding of brackets left more to be desired.
“The experience of the whole thing was not as good as it used to be,” Sood said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to take teams down to Tacoma that have done well and [some that] went 0-and-2 and were out. But we still had a memorable experience.”
For example, the Hawks basketball team started its season on the road at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Interestingly enough, the regional playoff game against Hazen was on the same court at Marysville-Pilchuck.
The atmosphere in the gym for both games was relatively similar.
Location was problematic as some schools had to travel across the state for a regional game only to travel across the state again to play in the final days of the state tournament at a different site. Seeding was another issue as some regional brackets had more higher ranked teams than others. This knocked out some quality teams before they even got to the final eight.
Sood, president of the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches’ Assocation, has been busy gathering feedback on the new regional format from coaches around the state. He will meet with the WIAA next week to discuss implementing changes to the tournament.
“We are in the business of making enough money to provide co-curricular activities for kids. What we’re in to is mostly providing positive experiences, and are we sacrificing that to make money?” Sood said. “If we’re doing that, then I’m in the wrong business because I’m not getting rich coaching. I like doing it.”
Another issue is that small schools and large schools face a different dilemma. Large schools in urban areas may not have as many fans compared to a small school that has the rallying support of its town.
“The whole town celebrates the team’s success. The whole town shuts down and packs it up and goes to Spokane or goes to Yakima,” Sood said. “The experience is unbelievable,”
Some schools in larger classifications did not have a large fan turnout, which is one reason why the regional format may continue to stick around in 3A or 4A.
“When you don’t have fans, no one is buying tickets. No one is buying concessions, no one is buying programs, but you still have to pay these expenses of renting these massive venues,” Sood said.
Although Sood and many others dislike the current state tournament format, he realizes that the WIAA will have tough decisions to make regarding the 2011-2012 state basketball tournament and beyond.
“I’m not questioning what they do. I think they do a good job and they’re thorough. I hope they’ll listen to our state coaches’ association, the fans, the student-athletes and continue to do what’s best for them.”
It’s hard to please everyone but the WIAA will have to respond to those who were critical of the regional format to improve the overall high school basketball experience.