PORT ANGELES — Change appears likely for the state high school basketball tournament format.
Declining attendance at state events coupled with increasing costs of facility rental has the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association assessing potential changes to all classifications, including moving the well-attended Class 1B and 2B tournaments, collectively known as State B, out of Spokane.
The current format, which began in 2017, sees 16 teams qualify for the regional round with teams seeded 1-8 facing off with a protected trip to state guaranteed and seeds 9-16 playing elimination games, held mostly at high-school sites.
Twelve teams head to state (4A and 3A at the Tacoma Dome; 2A and 1A at the Yakima SunDome; 2B and 1B at the Spokane Arena) for a four-day tournament.
More time in the centrally-located city of Yakima is likely after taking a look at all three proposals.
WIAA financial projections note that the SunDome is cheaper to rent than the Tacoma Dome or Spokane Arena.
Here are the three proposals.
• Super Regional Option 1: 16 teams qualify for a single-elimination regional round at a high school or college site with seeding matchups changed so that the No. 1 seed faces No. 16, the No. 2 plays No. 15, etc.
Eight teams advance to a single-elimination super regional the following week, also held at a high school or college site. The top four teams for 4A, 3A and 2A will head to a two-day tournament at the Tacoma Dome the following week. The 1A, 2B and 1B site will either be in Yakima or Spokane.
• Super Regional Option 2: 16 teams qualify for a single-elimination regional round at a high school or college site with the same seeding matchup overhaul as listed in option one. The next week, eight teams advance to a super regional at the Yakima SunDome featuring all six classifications playing over three days (1B and 2B on Thursday; 1A and 2A on Friday; 3A and 4A on Saturday).
The top four teams for 4A, 3A and 2A will head to a two-day tournament at the Tacoma Dome the following week. The 1A, 2B and 1B site will be in Yakima or Spokane.
• Rounds 1 and 2 in Yakima Option: In this format, the 1A, 2B and 1B schools head to Yakima for two days during the final week in February and 16 teams in each class are whittled down to four. Those four teams will travel to Spokane the next week for semifinals and the championship game.
The 4A, 3A and 2A schools will head to Yakima the first week of March and play two days each to trim 16 teams down to four, which will head to Tacoma the following week to crown a champion.
In all three formats, teams will still qualify through district tournaments and will be seeded through the state seeding committee, which is taking the place of the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) that has seeded the state tournament since 2017.
A fan survey that outlines the mechanics of and provides financial projections for all three options is available through the WIAA App.
Modern-day changes began in 2011, when the WIAA moved from the 16-team, modified double-elimination format that had been in place since the mid 1980s. In 2011, the WIAA brought back the regional round (which was in place before the 16-team format) and only eight teams qualified for state in each class.
This was an unpopular move among the state basketball coaches associations, with arguments against centering on half as many players getting to enjoy the state experience as under the previous setup. The 2017 move allowed 12 teams to move on to state.
Port Angeles girls basketball coach Michael Poindexter has seen every state format the WIAA has tried in his coaching career and has coached teams to state under the 2011 format and the 2017 revision.
“I had come to peace with the current mode,” Poindexter said. “If we are unable to support a 16-team tournament, this isn’t bad.”
His recent squads, which have made state trips to Yakima for four straight seasons, earned those trips as a result of their regular season and district performances, slotting them into protected seeds in the top eight. This past season the Riders entered the regional round seeded sixth and faced their doppelgangers in No. 3 Tumwater. Under the new seeding, Port Angeles would have faced a No. 11 seed and would have technically been the host team, although regional round games have yet to be played at venues west of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
“If I am a 5-8 seed now I am playing somebody maybe a little lower level,” Poindexter said. “But it comes with the loss of that cushion, that safety net to get to state.”
He said his initial preference was the third option, with Yakima the starting point for state.
“That way you get the state feel with high-stakes games for at least a couple of days,” Poindexter said. “You get to see some other games, watch some other teams. And the players get that certain feeling, that unique experience that comes with the state tournament.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected].