Here is another proposal on how to improve the state basketball experience

It snowed Thursday in Clark County, if you didn’t notice. So I found myself with some unexpected time on my hands.

The regional round of high school state basketball tournaments will be held this weekend. And typically at this time of year, the chatter on social media starts to ramp up about how coaches and fans long for the days of the 16-team/single site state tournament.

And I say coaches and fans because the chatter is far less from players. That’s because the last time the 16-team/single-site format was used was in 2010, when this year’s class of seniors were in kindergarten. It’s hard to miss something you never experienced, probably even as a spectator.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t make the current format better.

So let’s start with this. To the “let’s just bring back the 16-team/single-site state tournament” crowd, it’s not happening. Now 12 years dead. It would take a Dr. Frankenstein-like effort to revive it now, particularly given that the WIAA lost out on significant revenue when the pandemic caused it to scrub all state championship events in 2020-21.

However, I do appreciate discussions on reasonable solutions to improve the state experience for basketball teams beyond the current regional format.

That’s why I liked the idea share by Meadowdale boys coach Roger O’Neill on social media earlier this week.

The proposal – the details of which I will share here in screenshots (click on them to enlarge) – revolves around the idea of returning to the 16-team/double-elimination format by utilizing alternate sites for consolation-round games. It’s a concept that I have played around with in my mind, so it was good to see it mapped out.

Now, Coach O’Neill’s proposal creates several issues or potential roadblocks. I won’t list them all here, but the most significant is that it requires an additional day of facility rental at the three state tournament sites – Tacoma Dome, Yakima SunDome and Spokane Arena.

Going forward, the WIAA will be looking for ways to streamline its expenses, not add to them, which is what this proposal would do.

I believe any proposal would need to stick with the current four days of facility rental at each final state site. So, I took Coach O’Neill’s proposal and tinkered with it to remain within those parameters. Here is how my plan maps out.

Like Coach O’Neill’s plan, my proposal would return the 16-team/double-elimination format, meaning first-round games would be 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, etc., and it uses alternate sites. In the case of Class 3A, which uses a 20-team state bracket, a regional round would still be needed to pare the field down to 16.

From there, first-round games would be played on Wednesday with half of the games being played in the main host site (i.e. Tacoma Dome).

How do we determine which first-round games are played at the main site? Well, you could do this one of two ways.

You could use alternate years. For example at the Tacoma Doem, in Year 1, all 3A boys first-round games and all 4A girls first-round games are played at the main site, while 3A girls and 4A boys go to the alternate sites. In Year 2, that would be reversed.

Or the option I prefer is you reward the top seeds, playing the 1-16, 2-15, 3-14 and 4-13 games at the main site and the 5-12, 6-11, 7-10 and 8-9 games at the alternate site.

Like Coach O’Neill’s proposal, the alternate sites could be college gyms. In Tacoma, that could be Pacific Lutheran University, the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma Community College or Pierce College. High school gyms could also be an option.

Another spin on the alternate-site plan is these games could be played at four alternate sites instead of two, allowing for games to be played in the late afternoon and evening. That would make them more fan-friendly, and even more importantly, more student-friendly.

After Wednesday, all championship-round games would be played at the main site, while some of the loser-out games move to the alternate site(s).

Now this proposal does not guarantee a game on the main site for all final 16 teams at each classification every year.

If you do the alternating year/first-round format, it would guarantee one main-site game for 16 teams in one classification, while only guaranteeing one main-site game for 12 participants in the other classification.

If you do the format that puts top four seeds at the main site on Wednesday, that would guarantee one main-site game for 12 teams in each classification with the chance of increasing that number to as many as 16 based on Thursday loser-out results.

At the very least, it creates a two-game-minimum for state participants (except 3A regional losers) and it allows for every team that wins at least one state game to get at least one game on the main-site floor.

Is this format perfect? No. Is it better than the current format? I believe it is. And that needs to be the threshold that we are working toward here.

This is not intended to be the be-all/end-all state tournament fix. But it is intended to advance the discussion. If someone can look at this idea, and make it better and/or more cost-effective, I’m all ears.

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