State tourney format shortchanging players
Criticism and the Nevada state high school basketball tournaments go together like a snowblower goes with the month of February in Lake Tahoe.
Once again it’s late February, and another state basketball tournament has come and gone. Yet, tournament talk lingers, and the coaches, fans and players aren’t rehashing how Western stunned Bishop Gorman in the 4A final or how Bishop Manogue repeated as 3A champs.
The more the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association tinkers with its state tournament format, the more people the Silver State’s governing body of prep athletics irritates.
In their present states, the 1A, 2A and 3A boys and girls tournaments don’t exude a tournament atmosphere, not when only four schools are invited to this little dance.
Also annoying to the 1A is being farmed out Reed High for its semifinal games, while all the 4A boys and girls games unfold at Lawlor Events Center on the University of Nevada, Reno campus.
Whittell, playing in its first state tournament since 1994, also experienced this slight in its 2A third-place game, which was played at the venerable “Brickhouse” at Sparks High.
“They could have found a better place to put us,” said Whittell High coach Steve Maltase. “We went from a really nice place to one of the worst gyms I’ve ever seen. I don’t understand why they couldn’t put us at McQueen.”
Or better yet, Lawlor.
The NIAA owes every kid who qualifies for a state tournament a memorable experience. If that means spreading out the tournaments over a two-week period or using Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in addition to Lawlor, then so be it.
“It’s a goofy tournament bouncing all over the place,” Maltase said.
By packing all four tournaments into a four-day period in Reno, the NIAA has no other option but to use area high schools to pull off the cram session.
In addition to making the players and coaches feel unwanted, the NIAA tries to send them home as quick as possible. Does the Reno-Sparks Visitors Authority know this?
The 3A and 4A tournaments operate without consolation games, meaning that as soon as a team loses it is left out in the cold. Imagine how supporters of several Las Vegas schools felt after their teams made the eight-hour trip to Reno to see one game.
Oregon uses a 16-team state double-elimination format. Any team that slips up in its first game can still finish as high as fifth in the consolation format.
“We’re one of the few states that has a single-elimination tournament,” said Maltase, a sixth-year coach. “I don’t think it’s right for teams to come all this way and get only one game.”
Fortunately, the NIAA instituted a third-place game for the 1A and 2A, but these classifications aren’t being adequately represented with only four teams invited to state.
“More kids deserve to be in a playoff situation. That’s the bottom line,” Maltase said. “With Vegas now getting five teams into the 4A tournament and the North getting three, the chances of the North ever winning state is going to be really tough.”
Added Whittell senior Luke Forvilly, “I thought there should have been more teams. But any way you look at it, either four teams or 10 teams, it’s going to be too little or too much.”
If the NIAA continues to treat the lower-enrollment schools different than the larger, then maybe it’s time to implement the dinosaur of tournaments, the one-class system Indiana embraced through 1997.
Under that all-encompassing tournament plan, no school is left out of the postseason. Regular-season records and league finishes establish tournament seedings.
Obviously, the Las Vegas teams would dominate the boys tournament in such a scenario, but once in a while a sleeper team could sneak in and shock the state.
It happened in Indiana. When Milan won the 1954 Indiana state championship, its graduating class numbered 50 students. Milan played nine postseason games during its championship run and didn’t have to play any of its games in a barn.
It’s time for the NIAA to open the barn door and treat all of its classifications equally.
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