While not the return to a 16-team state basketball tournament coaches and administrators had lobbied for, the final-site fields in each classification will expand from eight teams to 12 this season, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced Monday.
The state tournament modifications will also feature a Rating Percentage Index (RPI) system that will seed the 16 teams who qualify for the regional round of each tournament. The WIAA has yet to announce the exact formula for its RPI, but said in a statement that it will “continue to refine the details” of it.
In the past five state tournaments, 16 teams in each classification played a one-game regional playoff, with the eight winning teams advancing to a single-elimination state tournament. Dwindling fan attendance and increased arena rental costs caused the WIAA to choose this three-day format over the traditional 16-team, five-day, modified double-elimination tournament.
The 12-team state playoff with an RPI system received a 71 percent majority vote when it was one of three options petitioned to state coaches, administrators and community members. The traditional 16-team modified double-elimination tournament was not one of the three options, a fact that Richland High School basketball coach Earl Streufert — who identified himself as a state tournament purist — was upset by.
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“There were three options we could vote on, and to be honest with you, none of them were very attractive,” said Streufert, whose Bombers last reached the eight-team state playoff in 2015.
While the lack of a return to the traditional state tournament format has disheartened many involved in the Washington’s high school basketball scene, Streufert said he was looking forward to how the RPI system affects the way teams go about scheduling their regular season games.
“The biggest benefit of the RPI is that you would know ahead of time who would play who, coming into the regional,” Streufert said. “I think an RPI in conjunction with a 16-team tournament would be great. A lot of different states do some kind of an RPI.”
Under the new format, the first round of each state tournament will be played at regional sites on a Friday and Saturday, and will feature seeds 1-8 playing for a second-round bye at the state tournament — the losing teams still advance to the second round — and seeds 9-16 playing loser-out games. The state tournaments will then be played at the same final sites as in past years — 4A and 3A at the Tacoma Dome, 2A and 1A at the Yakima Valley SunDome, and 2B and 1B at the Spokane Arena — in single-elimination styles from Wednesday-Saturday, with eight teams playing in the second round for a shot to play the top four teams, who are waiting in the third round.
This was the format listed as “Option B” on the WIAA’s survey. Option A — which was supported by the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association and the Washington State Girls Basketball Coaches Association — would have done away with the regional round and would have had 16 teams in each classification play a single-elimination state tournament over the course of two weekends. This option would have had 2A teams join the 3A and 4A schools at the Tacoma Dome, and would have put the 1A schools with the 2B and 1B teams at the Spokane Arena — with the first round of the B tournaments taking place at the SunDome. That format would have also used an RPI system to seed teams.