WIAA issues response to criticism of state basketball tournament formats

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association issues a response in the wake of criticism about the high school state basketball tournaments, regionals and draw procedures.

Here’s the response:

This weekend, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s final eight girls and boys basketball teams from each classification are headed to Spokane, Yakima or Tacoma for the 2015 Hardwood Classic. The WIAA congratulates these schools and all their student athletes on qualifying, and every other team around the state for a successful season.

How did the final teams get here? It started with a draw that took place back in mid-January. The draw followed criteria (page 5) established with the participation of all the WIAA member schools and approved by the WIAA Executive Board (a group comprised of 13 school personnel). While the basketball draw criteria is unique to its sport, it follows the same principles of the draw criteria for other WIAA team sports. That draw was reviewed and then approved following open discussion at the WIAA Executive Board meeting held January 25-26, 2015.

During that same Executive Board meeting, the Board supported the recommendation of the nine District Directors and the WIAA staff to withhold announcing the draws until the following district qualifying game was complete. This decision was based on reports last year of coaches deliberately coaching to lose in order to earn a more favorable match-up based on the draw. The Board discussed the potential impact on the ability of qualifying teams to scout and to make travel plans, but felt that the delay in the release was necessary to prevent coaches from manipulating the outcome of games similar to the unfortunate situation that occurred a few weeks later in Tennessee where game play was halted after it was clear one team was intentionally trying to lose. The Executive Board’s decision to withhold the draws is consistent with the sports of Volleyball, Tennis and Softball.

The draws determined the match-ups for the Regional round, now in its fifth year. The decision to move to the Regional format was made by the WIAA Executive Board representing member schools after a steady decline in State Basketball attendance over a 13-year period.

The WIAA Executive Board is familiar with the concerns of many basketball coaches and fans about the revised format. It is an emotionally-charged topic the Board will undoubtedly hear more about in subsequent years. The Board has made modifications to the Regional format over the last few years based on feedback from member schools. Among other changes, this includes the decision to make all regional contests single elimination so that fans can attend both boys and girls contests, and the decision that no qualifying school is allowed to play in its home gym.

With this revised format, the WIAA has seen a consistent increase in Regional round fan attendance since 2011, which indicates that these are meaningful games for the qualifying teams and their communities. Moving to the Regional format has led to fiscal stability for the benefit of ALL WIAA activities while also reducing the overlap of winter and spring sports, reducing the number of days out of school for participants and school support groups (bands, cheer, dance/drill teams, etc.) and maintaining a 16-entry tournament, which were several of the WIAA Executive Board’s objectives when the decision was made to revise the format of the tournament back in 2010.

No one solution was perfect, but the WIAA Executive Board believed that moving to the Regional format most successfully managed costs to make the tournament sustainable while also addressing a number of issues the WIAA was hearing from its many stakeholders.

The WIAA Executive Board has been approached by a group of superintendents who are exploring solutions to bring the 16-team tournament back. This group will meet with the WIAA Executive Board on March 22 to discuss their next steps.

This week the WIAA is focused on creating an exciting and memorable experience for the 96 basketball teams and communities that will be competing for their respective State Championships. Over the years, the WIAA State Basketball tournaments have provided endless highlights and entertainment for high school basketball enthusiasts, and this year is shaping up to add to that legacy.

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