When Utah’s sixth classification goes into effect at the start of the 2017-18 school year, the already inflated number of state trophies given will grow even higher.
The Utah High School Athletics Administration gives out five basketball trophies for every 20-30 schools. Some regions and classifications barely have enough teams to fill a 16-team bracket — like Region 10, in which Tooele, Grantsville and Stansbury compete as part of a five-team league.
A small league isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor is a larger 16-team bracket. The problem is the combination of the two. I understand the UHSAA probably sees those extra games in terms of gate revenue and advertising value, but making the requirement to attend the supposedly prestigious state tournament as low as merely not taking last place is too mediocre.
Playoffs are supposed to mean something. It should be an honor to be invited, even more so to win. But if you go with the other extreme of only have a four-team tournament, it’s so impossible to be invited that it stops becoming a goal for any team that doesn’t have a rich history of titles hanging in the rafters.
So the other day, my fellow sports writer Darren Vaughan and I figured out a way to get the best of both worlds.
My vote for Class 3A was a 12-team tournament in which each of the division winners is awarded a bye while the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds play each other in the first round. But then we get the problem of a No. 4 seed upsetting a No. 1 seed like we saw in Grantsville on Friday. So maybe an eight-team tournament after having region tournaments at neutral sites would satisfy the bracket craving.
But if you’re going to have a tournament, why not overdo it?
Our compromise? A massive 68-team tournament across all classifications.
“But March Madness isn’t for another month,” you may say. “That many teams is waaaay too many for Utah high school ball.”
You’d probably be right. But it’s fun to talk about, so hear me out.
Leave the regions as they have been proposed in the most recent six-classification system, and give each of the 22 league winners and runners up an automatic berth into the state tournament. Fill in the remaining spots in the bracket with the help of a selection committee.
There will need to be some sort of metric to determine which 19-4 team from Class 2A will get in over a 13-10 team from one of the higher divisions, or vice versa. There are several methods to choose from — Colorado uses a rating system in which they reward wins against larger schools and soften wins against smaller ones. Utah could possibly rate opponent win percentage. Whatever — it doesn’t necessarily matter which metric is used, so long as one is in place.
The biggest upside to a massive bracket like this is the potential for great basketball.
I would love to watch Corner Canyon hold off an upset attempt by San Juan, or see how good some of those Panguitch teams really would stack up against Springville in the first round. There is the potential for rivalry games in any stage, like Woods Cross and Bountiful or Hillcrest and Brighton. We could finally see how some of these St. George teams from Region 9 would do against the likes of Skyline and Olympus. And who wouldn’t want to see Lone Peak take on Wasatch Academy in the championship game?
Like I said, great basketball games will be plentiful.
“But a tournament like that will take soooo long,” you may say. “The athletes will be too exhausted for the second weekend of games.”
You’d probably be right, and this is one place where our massive tournament hits a reality check, but let’s keep talking about it anyway.
Play the first three rounds just like a normal state tournament would over a Wednesday Thursday, Friday and Saturday — girls play the first round on Wednesday, boys on Thursday, and the second and third rounds Friday and Saturday.
Take a few days off and start action up again Thursday for another game per day until the championship on Saturday. The whole thing can be done in two long weekends.
Let’s talk venue. The UHSAA already has agreements to play at big arenas for the existing state tournaments. If we break this 68-team tournament into four sites: Southern Utah University or Dixie State, Utah Valley or Brigham Young universities, the Huntsman Center or Maverik Center, and Weber State or Utah State universities, each of the four sites will host games on the first weekend a la NCAA March Madness-style. The quarterfinal, semifinal and championship rounds will be played at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The other big snag we see this tournament running into is willing participation from the smaller schools. Something this massive obviously gives more chances to larger schools.
Darren and I tried to alleviate that a little bit by having the eight worst seeds face each other for the right to be demolished by the four best-seeded teams in the tournament, but no one likes to travel a long way just to get embarrassed.
So if it’s just the two best teams in the 1A and 2A regions who are invited only to run into the likes of Bingham and Copper Hills, we run into that old problem of teams giving up on their goal to make it to the state title when they’re in the same league as one or two Salt Lake-area private schools that can recruit from all over the valley — just like Hillcrest trying to keep its players from Juan Diego and Judge Memorial, or Grand trying to compete with Wasatch Academy in the old 2A classification.
I guess we’ll just have to live with our dreams of inclusive region tournaments and 8- or 12-team state playoff brackets.
Tavin Stucki is a sports reporter from Midvale, Utah, who hasn’t found a sport he doesn’t like. For ideas on alternative playoff formats, email firstname.lastname@example.org.