In trying to fix one problem, the Utah High School Activities Association has created another.
The Ratings Percentage Index was supposed to make for a better state tournament, with the marquee matchups saved until the later rounds instead of having two of the top teams meet in the first or second round. It was understandable, given that not all regions are created equal, and, yes, the fourth-place team from one region could easily be better than another region’s champion.
However, it has rendered the first couple rounds of the state tournament borderline unwatchable, thanks to the UHSAA’s new “all-comers” format. It has required teams to make long bus trips across the state, even when they have little or no shot at advancing. And if they do advance? Well, the same problem exists in the second round in most classifications.
Sure, there are exceptions. Eleventh-seeded San Juan traveled to Price to upend sixth-seeded Emery in the second round of the Class 3A girls basketball tournament last week. On the other side, ninth-seeded American Leadership Academy got throttled by eighth-seeded Grantsville in the second round of the boys tournament, so surprises do happen both ways.
They are rare, however. Take Tuesday’s matchup between Tooele and Uintah in the first round of the 4A boys tournament. The Buffaloes dominated Uintah in the regular-season finale Friday night, leaving no question as to what was likely to happen a few days later. Yet, Uintah was forced to make another 400-mile round trip on a bus for another inevitable blowout loss.
Do we really need to see 21 teams make the postseason, when there are only 21 teams in 4A? I think not.
Having everyone make the postseason devalues the regular season. A region championship now means next to nothing other than pride. It also puts a financial burden on school districts statewide to have to send their teams all the way across the state one last time, just to get blown out.
There are plenty of examples. Grand’s girls, who won just one game all season, traveled roughly 400 miles round trip to get blown out by Union in the first round of the playoffs. The girls from Crimson Cliffs, located in the northern part of St. George, traveled all the way to Vernal to lose their inaugural playoff game some 417 miles from home — the same distance as it is from Tooele to the Las Vegas Strip.
Cedar Valley (Eagle Mountain) to Canyon View (Cedar City)? How about a 462-mile round trip on a school night? It’s also a 646-mile round trip from Ogden to Hurricane. And, predictably, the higher seed won each game handily.
It could be argued that even a 16-team bracket is too much, thanks to Utah having too many classifications. At very least, a traditional 16-team bracket might be too much.
Here’s an idea for a more competitive format. The top four teams receive byes into the quarterfinals. The teams seeded No. 5-8 receive first-round byes. Teams 9-16 play first-round games, with the higher seed receiving home-court advantage.
In Class 4A’s boys bracket, it would look like this:
First Round — No. 16 Logan at No. 9 Bear River; No. 15 Snow Canyon at No. 10 Green Canyon; No. 14 Cedar Valley at No. 11 Crimson Cliffs; No. 13 Tooele at No. 12 Desert Hills.
Second Round — Logan-Bear River winner at No. 8 Hurricane; Snow Canyon-Green Canyon winner at No. 7 Stansbury; Cedar Valley-Crimson Cliffs winner at No. 6 Juan Diego; Tooele-Desert Hills winner at No. 5 Pine View.
Quarterfinals — Logan/Bear River-Hurricane winner vs. No. 1 Sky View; Snow Canyon/Green Canyon-Stansbury winner vs. No. 2 Dixie; Cedar Valley/Crimson Cliffs-Juan Diego winner vs. No. 3 Ridgeline; Tooele/Desert Hills-Pine View winner vs. No. 4 Cedar City.
This format would reward the top teams with the added security of knowing they’re already headed to the state tournament. It would also potentially eliminate first-round blowouts, as Desert Hills, Tooele, Cedar Valley and Snow Canyon each won by at least 23 points — though Logan narrowly beat Canyon View in the 16-17 matchup in the actual tournament and would face a stiff challenge against Bear River in this format.
The second round is also a bit more competitive in the event of a first-round upset — should Logan get past Bear River, it would face Hurricane in the second round instead of top-seeded Sky View. Snow Canyon gets Stansbury instead of Dixie. Cedar Valley faces Juan Diego, which it beat during the regular season, instead of Ridgeline. Only Tooele doesn’t benefit much, facing No. 5 Pine View instead of No. 4 Cedar City.
Yes, some of the travel is longer, but some of that is unavoidable with Class 4A teams stretching from Tremonton to St. George and Tooele to Vernal. However, the trade-off is competitive balance, and a much-less bloated state tournament format.
The RPI, in theory, is a good idea. Now, it’s just a matter of better execution.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He’s a bit old-school in believing that postseason berths are earned, not given. Email him at email@example.com.