While West Virginia continues to play the waiting game in terms of the fate of its high school state basketball tournaments, a buzz has begun to form surrounding the possible contingency plan should neither the girls nor boys return to the court this year.
And that buzz can buzz off.
Maybe you’ve heard it, too — a call for the crowning of state champions in girls and boys basketball based on seeding, records or other arbitrary criteria.
Thankfully, those scenarios were basically ruled out at the beginning of this process. West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission Executive Director Bernie Dolan, addressing the media at an impromptu press conference after the announced suspension of the girls state tournament last Thursday, said that if the tournaments are canceled for good, no state champions would be named.
It would be odd, seeing blank spaces next to the year 2020 in record books for years to come. Some people are afraid of silence. And some must be afraid of blank spaces.
Other than fear, what could convince someone to think that an effective system exists to crown a champion in basketball without actually playing games. Rooting interests? Bias?
Let’s break this down step-by-misguided-step.
First, the idea to award top seeds state titles.
Well, right off the top, the boys haven’t played regional co-finals in Class AA yet. Though seeding for the state tournament should have already been voted on by coaches, the field isn’t set.
Wheeling Park was ranked No. 1 in Class AAA on the girls side for nearly the full season. It’s very possible the Patriots would have earned the top seed in the state tournament, except they were upset by Morgantown at home in a regional co-final. How would it be fair to crown a champion in Class AA boys that played one less game against a tough opponent than top seeds in all three girls classes and both of the other boys classes?
But all of this is secondary to the real dribbling elephant in the gym here — seedings mean squat. Bupkis.
In the last three years alone, No. 1 seeds have failed to win more state championships in boys basketball than they’ve won, with lower seeds claiming five of nine titles. On the girls side, the top seed has a slim 5-4 advantage.
Put them together and half of the time the top seed has gone on to win a championship. By that math, if top seeds were awarded state titles at this juncture, we’d be wrong about three out of six of them if it was played on the court.
And then there’s the very way these seedings are settled upon — the coaches vote.
This is in no way a shot at coaches out there, but having gotten to know several over the last decade-plus, I’ve learned a few things.
One, coaches are usually so in tune with their own teams that the last thing they’re doing is actively judging the merit of others throughout the season.
Two, if a coach’s team isn’t playing an opponent, chances are that coach hasn’t seen that opponent or, at the least, hasn’t dedicated the time to study that opponent enough to be able to rank them.
Three, we’re asking coaches to rank 15 teams in order, several of which are from opposite ends of the state than their own.
Many coaches I talk to base a lot of their rankings off the Associated Press poll. Although I’m a voter in that poll, I would never advocate awarding anybody anything based off of it. We are wrong. All the time. And the bottom-line truth to it is that we’re all just guessing as best we can. Want to proclaim a team is the best in the state based on an educated guess?
And then there’s the whole aspect of the competitors and coaches themselves. I’d be willing to bet a roll of Charmin that if you polled kids and coaches off top-seeded teams, the vast majority would be against any such proposed ruling. Competitors want to prove they’re the best too. They don’t want a hollow plaque that won’t be recognized by the majority of the state and that at the end of the day means nothing.
I cover girls basketball primarily. This has been the wildest year I can ever remember. The top seed in Class AAA was eliminated before the state tournament. I saw a scenario of common opponents this year in which Riverside beat Hurricane, which beat Spring Valley, which beat Huntington, which beat Wheeling Park, which beat Parkersburg.
I saw the state tournament begin with a No. 6-over-No. 3 upset as PikeView took out Fairmont Senior in a Class AA tilt. I saw 1,000-point scorers and scoring and assist records broken. I saw Nitro’s Baylee Goins put together one of the best three-game postseason stretches we’ve ever seen. I saw teams I thought were dead surge in the end. I saw teams I thought were locks for the state tournament fade when it mattered.
Some of it bordered on insanity. It was the wildest ride I can remember in any sport from the beginning of the regular season to the beginning of the state tournament.
And while it would be sad not to not finish it, maybe it’s fitting in a way too. In a year that was already pretty unforgettable, maybe it will always be remembered for that blank space next to the year in the program.
But, thankfully, we won’t remember it as a year when No. 1 seeds swept the state without sweeping anyone at all.