State basketball tournaments will expand this year, and a rankings system will be implemented to seed qualifying teams, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced Monday.
Beginning with the 2016-17 season, four additional teams — bringing the total up from eight to 12 — will advance from the 16-team regional round of each tournament to championship sites.
The 16 teams that qualify for the regional round of each tournament, boys and girls teams across all six classifications, will be seeded by a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) the WIAA is developing.
“Anytime you can add teams to the state tournament experience is positive,” Tumwater High School boys basketball coach Thomas Rowswell said.
“The state tournament experience is not something you can buy — you have to earn it. It creates a special atmosphere for the kids. … Like previous formats, there will be some question marks and things to think about, but I do like the move to include more teams.”
The WIAA’s executive board voted to approve the changes based on feedback it received from 746 coaches and administrators from the more than 400 schools across the state, who were polled between Aug. 15 and Sept. 15 to choose between three reformatting options.
“I was happy that there was a level of inclusion in getting opinions from coaches,” Black Hills girls coach Tanya Greenfield said. “When it went from (a 16-team tournament at championship sites) to what it is now, there wasn’t an opportunity to have input. WIAA listened and heard the displeasure, and addressed it.”
This option, selected by 71 percent of respondents including Greenfield, was Option B. Option A would have reinstalled the format abandoned in 2009, which featured a 16-team, modified double-elimination tournament at a single site.
But that option also required teams in four classifications — 2A, 1A, 2B and 1B — to move between multiple venues during the two-week period because of arena availability.
Option C was to retain the current format — eight teams advance to the three marquee sites out of 16-team regional rounds.
Several local coaches suggested that while they’d prefer to have 16 teams advance to marquee venues — The Tacoma Dome (4A, 3A), the Yakima Valley SunDome (2A, 1A) and the Spokane Arena (2B, 1B) — adding four more teams out of regionals is better than the current system.
The increase allows about 500 more student athletes to compete in a championship environment, the WIAA said in its release.
“I do like the idea of four more teams getting the chance to play inside the (Tacoma) Dome,” Timberline boys coach Allen Thomas said. “That’s awesome.”
There was more speculation about how the bracket is set up.
In the regional round, the four games that include seed Nos. 1-8 (based on the RPI rankings) advance the winner with a first-round bye. The losing team also advances to the championship site, but will play in a first-round game.
Seed Nos. 9-16 will play in loser-out games in the regional round. The winners advance to play in the first round, which is single elimination. Rounds two through four are double elimination, with round two and three losers dropping into a consolation bracket.
The main point of concern coaches raised with this format is that a team ranked Nos. 1-8 could lose to another school in the regional round, and end up playing that school the following week at the championship site.
“A team we’re playing to get into the state tournament — if we have to play a No. 1 team — we could play again,” River Ridge boys coach John Barbee said.
The Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association and the Washington State Girls Basketball Coaches Association sent a letter to the WIAA marked Sept. 23 voting no confidence in the decision, citing the sample size of survey respondents was invalid.
Barbee said he favors a bracket where 16 teams play at a championship venue. Greenfield agreed, but noted that based on venue availability, Option A didn’t seem viable.
“Option B was a hybrid between the current way and the 16-team system,” Greenfield said. “It was a ‘meet in the middle’ for sure.”
The seeding system will be facilitated by MaxPreps, which has assisted 11 states currently using RPI. Coaches are expected to report scores to the site, which will then determine rankings based on a system similar to the NCAA’s. WIAA assistant executive director Cindy Adsit said seeding will weight three criteria:
▪ It will consist of 25 percent win-loss percentage — meaning how many games Timberline, for example, wins and loses.
▪ It will be 25 percent win-loss percentage of opponents of opponents. Timberline plays Foss in its season opener. The formula will look at how Timberline does against Foss, and how every other team that plays Foss performs. Margin of victory will not matter.
▪ The win-loss percentage of opponents will count for 50 percent of the rating. That means, how Foss does the rest of the season — or how Tumwater, Capital, Wilson or any of the other teams on Timberline’s schedule play the rest of the season — carries the most weight.
That means RPI ranking will heavily weight strength of schedule. Teams that play in leagues that are perennially stronger could fare better than others.
“Chances are, playing in a weak league is going to impact their RPI,” Adsit said. “If they play highly ranked teams at a tournament out of state, that might help.”
Adsit said a win is a win, regardless of point differential, which classification an opponent plays in, or if that opponent is in or out of state.
“It makes it intriguing for who schedules who … you’ll hardly ever see any ‘cupcake’ games,” Thomas said.
District tournaments will still be held for qualifying and allocation purposes, but Adsit said RPI will not be affected by outcome.
“RPI will not take into consideration any postseason games, because there’s such a difference in what each one of the districts is doing,” Adsit said. “RPI will be based on 20 regular-season games only.”
Thomas said he likes the idea that postseason slip-ups can’t derail an otherwise productive season.
“Advancing is all that matters,” he said. “It’s kind of good if you think about it. If you’ve been great the entire season and happen to slip in the district championship game, that’s not going to hurt you when it comes to seeding.”
The focus on regular season will likely encourage teams vying state berths to schedule games against historically successful opponents — especially teams that play in weaker leagues.
“I can try to crunch the numbers, but I think for us, it’s going to be one of those things where you’ve got to win,” Thomas said.
Basketball will be a test balloon for the WIAA’s new system, Adsit said. Other team sports could have RPI as early as next year.
“We’re using basketball as a test run, and we’ll look at that with the potential that it will be implemented for other team sports beginning next year,” Adsit said.
The first RPI rankings will be released Jan. 1 and weekly thereafter, Adsit said.
From his standpoint, Barbee said the system could be favorable in the 2A South Puget Sound League, which River Ridge plays in, because it is generally competitive top-to-bottom. But, like other coaches in the area, he has questions about how well the system will work when the postseason arrives.
“We’ll see how it plays itself out,” Barbee said. “We’ve got to get there first.”