Friday, March 04, 2005

Injustice At The High School Level

Didn’t watch any basketball last night, as due to various reasons, I didn’t get home until 9:30pm. I had just enough stamina to come up with a brief indictment of the WIAA decision to move the Milwaukee King-Wauwatosa East game from the Wauwatosa East gym to the Whitefish Bay gym, completely ignoring the fact that Wauwatosa East had earned the opportunity to host the game by virtue of their higher seed. I alluded to this yesterday, and noted my selfish approval of the move, but I do recognize the fundamental unfairness that is inherent in such a move. Join me as I slip deeper and deeper into my obsession with the high school tournament and put college basketball on the back-burner (in the interest of full-disclosure, though this is fairly obvious to anyone who knows me or has read this thing for awhile, I am a Tosa East alum):

As a fan who likes to watch basketball games, I love the WIAA decision for selfish reasons, as it gives more guys like me a chance to watch a great game. This decision was made for guys like me. However, if you don’t believe that Wauwatosa East is getting a raw deal in this instance, you’re kidding yourself. Wauwatosa East earned a #2 seed. Debate the merits of that seed all you want (though I personally think that the regional was seeded quite appropriately), but that was what was determined at the seeding meeting. That’s not the issue here. One of the privileges that was said to come with that seed was the right to host games against lower seeded opponents in the first round. It is clearly stated on the brackets on the WIAA website (note: the language on these brackets may change, but this is the language as of today's version) that “The higher seeded team will host the second round regional game on Saturday, March 5.” There is no caveat saying “...unless the game is really, really important and we could sell more tickets at another location.” I suppose one could argue that the word “host” is not meant to dictate the location, but rather the school that is responsible for security and general presentation of the game, but given that every other higher seeded Division 1 school is hosting their game at their own school on Saturday, location seems pretty strongly implied as a part of the hosting package, as well.

So then, a Wauwatosa East team that was rightfully expecting to play their biggest game of the season in the gym that they are most comfortable in, is most easily accessible to their fans, and doesn’t require them to board a bus to get to, now has to go elsewhere. Imagine if the Packers had a home-field advantage in the playoffs and the NFL told them that they had to play their games elsewhere, not because they had garnered a lower seed than their opponent, but because Lambeau Field didn’t have as many seats as the NFL wanted. That would be unfair, and so is this. The only difference is that a heck of a lot more people follow the NFL, and the outcry would be so big that the NFL would never do this. It’s simply unfair to shift rules that create expectations during the middle of a tournament like this simply because it seems more convenient or advantageous to someone at the time.

Unfairness is nothing new at the regional level, though. I recall that during my childhood, and when I was in high school (the days before regional seeding, I might add), the regional hosts were chosen months in advance, and that often led to different types of unfairness. Coincidentally, Wauwatosa East was often a beneficiary of this old system, as they usually requested to host games in their own regional, resulting in several years of unwarranted homecourt advantage in huge games, occasionally against a nationally ranked team.

And while I’m glad to see that old system out the window, we’re not any further along if an earned homecourt advantage can be taken away at the drop of a hat. Though second round match-ups are not generally likely to generate the interest that this game has, given the history of sectional #8, the WIAA has to recognize that such games are possible, and plan a scheme that addresses this situation. And let’s not forget—the Wauwatosa East gym while not huge, is not tiny. What happens if, say, Milwaukee Juneau ever is scheduled to host a game in their crackerbox gym? Maybe giving a homecourt advantage to higher seeded teams is not the way to go. I don’t know. I certainly think it’s possible to create a system that doesn’t mislead teams as to what their seed means, and still accomplishes the goal of putting as many people as possible in the gym to watch big games. We’re just not there quite yet. Hopefully we will be soon.

Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of everything that’s gone down, here’s looking forward to a phenomenal game on Saturday. I’ll be there, and so will 700 or so extra fans of good basketball. And given the late start time, I may just drop in on another 1:30pm high school game. Hey, like I said, though its unfair, this decision was made for guys like me.


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