The state basketball format, it seems, is changing again.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association posted a survey Thursday detailing three proposals to change the state tournament.
With attendance at state events dwindling for decades, and costs increasing, the WIAA says it has to do something. The state basketball tournament is one of the major revenue sources for the WIAA.
WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman said Friday the Class 4A and 3A state tournaments at the Tacoma Dome could lose money in the next few years.
“We can’t lose money at one of our keystone events,” Hoffman said. “That’s what’s pushing the change.”
If there’s one thing that can be taken from the proposals, it’s that state basketball fans had better prepare for a trip to Yakima. In two of the proposals, the early rounds of the tournament for all six classifications start at the Yakima SunDome, a cheaper venue than the Tacoma Dome, which would see only two days of action under the new proposals.
Another major change: The state basketball tournaments would be spread over three weeks instead of the nine days that it has recently occupied.
The current format, which began in 2017, has 16 teams qualify for the regional round, which eliminates four teams, held mostly at high-school sites. Twelve teams head to state (4A and 3A at the Tacoma Dome; 2A and 1A at the Yakima SunDome; 2B and 1B at the Spokane Arena) for a four-day tournament.
Here’s a look at the proposals:
- Super Regional Option 1: In this proposal, 16 teams qualify for a single-elimination regional round at a high school or college site. Eight teams advance to a single-elimination super regional the following week, also held at a high school or college site. The top four teams for 4A, 3A and 2A will head to a two-day tournament at the Tacoma Dome the following week. The 1A, 2B and 1B site will either be in Yakima or Spokane.
- Super Regional Option 2: In this proposal, 16 teams qualify for a single-elimination regional round at a high school or college site. The next week, eight teams advance to a super regional at the Yakima SunDome featuring all six classifications playing over three days (1B and 2B on Thursday; 1A and 2A on Friday; 3A and 4A on Saturday). The top four teams for 4A, 3A and 2A will head to a two-day tournament at the Tacoma Dome the following week. The 1A, 2B and 1B site will be in Yakima or Spokane.
- Rounds 1 and 2 in Yakima Option: In this format, the 1A, 2B and 1B schools play two days each the last week of February in Yakima to go from 16 teams to four. Those teams will head to Spokane the next week to crown a champion. The 4A, 3A and 2A schools will head to Yakima the first week of March and play two days each to whittle 16 teams down to four, which will head to Tacoma the following week to crown a champion.
In all three formats, teams will still qualify through district tournaments and will be seeded through the state seeding committee, which is taking the place of the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) that has seeded the state tournament since 2017.
Hoffman said all of these proposals are tentative. After gathering public opinion, the WIAA Executive Board, made up of 13 educators from across the state, will meet virtually next month and start discussing the future of the state basketball tournament. It’s possible the format could stay the same, or it could change for 2021.
The state basketball format has been a contentious issue for the WIAA since 2011, when it moved from the 16-team, modified double-elimination format that had been in place since the mid 1980s. In 2011, the WIAA brought back the regional round (which was in place before the 16-team format) and only eight teams qualified for state at the Tacoma Dome, Yakima SunDome or Spokane Arena.
This format was wildly unpopular with the state basketball coaches associations, who complained that only half of the players got the “state experience” than before. The move in 2017 allowed at least 12 teams to play at the larger venues.
The format allowed the WIAA to halve the rental for the state facilities as it could combine two classifications in the same venue. The WIAA made the moves after years of declining attendance.
While the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association still thinks the 16-team format is the best, said executive director Nalin Sood, the membership is largely OK with these options in part because the WIAA included WIBCA in the process. WIBCA president Joe Harris was part of the State Basketball Format Committee as was Washington State Girls Basketball Coaches Association president Dan Taylor.
Sood said his membership’s attitude about venue has changed as it’s not all about the biggest venue with the brightest lights but more about the experience. He said WIBCA is not throwing its weight behind any option.
“I think they’ve put three intriguing possibilities out there,” said Sood, who also coaches at Mountlake Terrace. “… There’s not one tournament that’s going to make everybody happy. If there was, every state would do that.”
The survey is live through Wednesday and can be accessed through the WIAA app.