Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Observations On the New WIAA Tournament Brackets

In my last post, I shared my general objections to the new 5-division WIAA state basketball tournament. However, until the actual tournament brackets came out in late September, there were still a lot of unanswered questions about how the state tournament would look. I’ve since had a chance to peruse those brackets, and today would like to share some observations about what I’m seeing. For your reference, here are those brackets:

Division 1

Division 2

Division 3

Division 4

Division 5

Most of my thoughts below (the first six, to be exact) revolve around Division 1. This is for two reasons. First, Division 1 is perhaps the most drastically altered by the new tournament format, as only half as many teams as in the past from that division will get to play at the state tournament this year. Thus, it has a lot of interesting changes occurring. Second, I simply happen to be more familiar with Division 1 than any of the other divisions.

Without further adieu, here are some of the interesting, amusing, and potentially upsetting things that I’ve noticed from glancing at the new state tournament brackets:

1) In general, I’m not crazy about the Super Tuesday game concept (the final Division 1 games before the state tournament being played at big venues on a night when none of the other divisions are playing). I do like having four huge, hyped up games to determine which Division 1 schools go to the state tournament. And I appreciate the WIAA’s attempt to give a special night to the Division 1 schools after taking away four of their state tournament berths. However, let’s be honest–these games would be better played on a Friday or Saturday. Putting the games with the potential for the most geographically far-flung teams on a Tuesday night in the middle of the school week seems an odd choice to me, particularly given that the winner will be missing school for the state tournament later that week. I suppose the distance issue is one that small schools in remote areas deal with all the time, but that’s out of necessity. It sure seems in this instance like there should have been a way to avoid the potential of sending a team from LaCrosse on a 5-hour round trip to and from Stevens Point on a Tuesday night.

2) I find it remarkable that there is a Super Tuesday game to be played in Stevens Point and that of the 19 schools competing to play in that game, there are exactly two whose cities are within an hour’s drive of Stevens Point. I find it even more remarkable that Stevens Point Area High School has been placed in neither of the sectionals competing to play in this game. If SPASH wants to go to state, it will have to travel to Oshkosh, instead. Given that the WIAA is based in Stevens Point, I’d have to assume that someone noticed these points and that there's some reasoning behind the placements. But I'm at a loss for what that reasoning could be.

3) In Division 1, all of the Milwaukee-area* schools are spread between three sectionals, none of whom are in the same bracket to get to the state tournament. Thus, there’s a possibility of three Milwaukee-area teams going to the state tournament. While this was a possibility last year, as well, the possibility of three out of eight teams at the state tournament being from Milwaukee was a bit different than three out of four teams having a Milwaukee area base. While as a Milwaukee native, I certainly don’t mind that the WIAA split things up in this manner, it does sort of conflict with all of the talk that I’ve heard over the years about wanting to have different geographic regions represented at state. And does it not seem weird that if, say, Menomonee Falls wants to make it to state, they’re going to have to play a game in Oshkosh first? Or that most of the schools in Sectional 7 are within a 10-15 minute drive of the Al McGuire Center (one of the “Super Tuesday” game sites), but that the winner of Sectional 7 is playing its Super Tuesday game at UW-Whitewater?

*Note: I’m counting Sectional 4, comprised of Waukesha and Ozaukee County teams as Milwaukee-area. I had an acquaintance in college who was willing to fight anyone who claimed that Hartland wasn’t a suburb of Milwaukee, so I think I’m on pretty solid ground here.

4) As for the Whitewater Super Tuesday game that will include one Milwaukee area team, I can virtually guarantee that you won’t find me going to that one. The drive between Milwaukee and Whitewater at night is unnerving enough due to the darkness and tricky points on Highway 12. I can only imagine what it will be like late on a Tuesday night with a bunch of teenage basketball fans who’ve never driven the stretch before. (I seem to have shifted into bitter old man mode there–sorry about that.) Then again, perhaps the long trip will kill attendance for the Milwaukee Public Schools, which typically have fan bases that don’t travel well. As Milwaukee King Coach Jim Gosz predicted about fan attendance at a potential game in Whitewater even before the Sectional pairings came out, “If we get one busload there, it would be a half bus more than I would figure.”

5) Division 1's Sectional 7 is absolutely brutal. It’s got Milwaukee King, Milwaukee Washington and Milwaukee Vincent, the three dominant City Conference schools of the last two decades. Then you mix in the typically strong programs at Milwaukee Marquette and Brookfield Central. And the winner more than likely gets to face off with Madison Memorial, the biggest non-Milwaukee-area talent magnet in the state, for the right to play in the state tournament. That's no easy path. Special kudos to Milwaukee Washington for being the only team to opt up from Division 2 to Division 1. Washington had to suspect that it was going to be placed in a sectional like this, and it takes guts to invite competition like that.

6) Milwaukee Hamilton coach Tom Diener may be the luckiest man alive. For years when he coached at Milwaukee Vincent, his teams were placed in a sectional away from all of the powerhouse teams now located in Sectional 7. Now, three years removed from his tenure at Vincent, the Vikings are in Sectional 7 with all of the other longtime Milwaukee-area powers and Diener’s Milwaukee Hamilton squad is placed in the significantly less-brutal Sectional 8. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

7) As I accurately noted in my post from Monday, the new Division 3 will contain four private schools (Racine St. Catherine’s, Whitefish Bay Dominican, LaCrosse Aquinas and Manitowoc Roncalli) that were dominant in the old Division 3. I stand by my comments that we should plan on those schools continuing to dominate in the new Division 3. Given the geographic diversity of the schools, only St. Catherine’s and Dominican appear in the same sectional, so it’s still entirely conceivable (perhaps even probable) that three of these four dominant programs could find themselves at the state tournament.

One thing that I noted in my previous post was not entirely accurate, though. My statement that “A few schools will get lucky and dodge these powers by moving down to Division 4" implied that Division 3 would basically stay the same as it always had. I believed that at the time that I wrote my prior post, but after examining things a bit more closely, that’s clearly not the case. Of the 127 schools that were part of the old Division 3, only 33 remain in the new Division 3. Of the other schools, 89 move down to Division 4 and four move down to Division 5 (You’ll note that only adds up to 126. I’m not entirely sure that the remaining school, the Milwaukee Wisconsin Career Academy, even exists or fields a basketball team anymore. All I know is that I can’t find it in any of the new divisions.) The net result? The aforementioned Division 3 powers now play schools that are slightly more equipped to compete with them, and the majority of the old Division 3 gets a break by moving down a division. I still think the new five division plan ignores the private school issue and simply shifts it to a different set of schools, but at least it’s semi-defensible when you examine the upward and downward movement of the schools involved in the new Divisions 3 and 4. It’s sort of uncanny, though, that the four schools that have been the subject of the most discussion were among the minority of old Division 3 schools that did not shift downward.

8) Semi-defensible as the five-division plan is for the reasons above, I find that the WIAA’s method of defining the enrollment limits for divisions somewhat lacking in terms of logic. Here are the official enrollment cut-offs for all of the divisions:

Division 1: Schools with an enrollment of 1200 and above

Division 2: Schools with enrollments ranging from 600 - 1199

Division 3: 50% of schools with enrollments between 200 and 600

Division 4: 50% of schools with enrollments between 200 and 600

Division 5: Schools with enrollments of 200 and less

One thing jumps out immediately when you look at the enrollment limits for each division–Divisions 3 and 4 are the only divisions without hard numbers as their limits. I’m troubled by this. As I’ve always understood it, the reason to separate teams into divisions is to ensure that no team is put at a vast competitive disadvantage solely because of its school’s enrollment. I’m all for divisions when they address a competitive imbalance. But based on the WIAA’s failure to make a clear line separating Division 3 from Division 4 that seems not to be what’s going on here. Having no set lower limit to Division 3 and no set upper limit to Division 4 implies that there’s no clear reason to differentiate between the two, other than the fact that there are a lot of schools of this size. And crafting a new division simply for the sake of convenience seems particularly misguided to me.

So, those are the things that jump off the page to me. Am I missing anything interesting in any of the divisions that I’ve discussed, or for that matter, those that I am not informed enough to discuss?


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