The case for smaller tourneys

Published 8:59 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Southeastern District has grown from eight to 10 schools in the last six years. Given the growth in Suffolk and Chesapeake, Suffolk’s fourth high school and Chesapeake’s eighth might be a few years off, but they’re practically inevitable.

Among the important issues city growth and new schools mandate, what to do about sports tournaments should be ranked somewhere around No. 7,934 on the list of things to figure out.

I’ll ramble on, anyway. Baseball and softball in the Southeastern District and Eastern Region are played at a high and super-competitive level.

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On one hand, more teams should get the opportunity to play in the postseason, since there are more schools playing for the same number of spots. On the other hand, there is an outstanding argument to be made for having the regular season mean a lot.

Although the Washington Capitals currently don’t have a skate blade to stand on, who really likes it when below-.500 NBA or NHL teams are in the playoffs?

An argument against a 96-team NCAA Big Dance was North Carolina this season. Even for the Tar Heels, Hoosiers and Bruins of the college basketball world, getting into the NCAA Tournament should stand for something. It should require some level of accomplishment — better than, say, going 4-12 in the ACC.

Four teams make the district tournaments in baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball and field hockey. Eight make it in basketball.

Even in football, where proposals for a longer season bring up concerns of additional injuries, more schools per district make the regional playoffs than other high school team sports excepting basketball.

In hoops, having “the more, the merrier” approach to tournaments — where it’s not unusual for the No. 8 team to play a No. 1 team they’ve already lost to by 40 points twice in the regular season — exists largely because of tradition.

It stems from the time when most states had single-class tournaments, with every school, regardless of size, play for one state championship. Only Kentucky and Delaware still hang on to every school, large or small, public or private, playing for the same trophy. In the college ranks, every Div. I school is, in effect, already in the NCAA Tournament by playing in its conference tournament.

The compromise for expanding the district and regional tournaments in baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball and field hockey is to have six teams make the district tourneys.

The top two teams in each district automatically make regionals and get byes to the semifinals of the districts. Teams three through six play a first round, with the winners getting the last two regional spots.

This lets more teams get a chance in the postseason. In the SED’s case, it’ll be half or less of the district again in a relatively short span of years. It also keeps the regular season important, as it should be.