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Girls state tournament format needs to be one and done

POSTED February 24, 2020
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson



               It used to be a standard comment from many high school coaches during basketball preview time.

               How do you think you’ll do this season coach?”

               "We’re shooting for .500 and hope to make the tournament.”

               How about now? Might it go something like this – “We’re shooting to win three or four games and make the tournament.”

               Yep, we have hit the stage where some 2-18, 3-17 and 4-16 teams have earned an invite to the girls tournament’s post-season party.  Win a game every other month or once a month or so and you get to the dance. Ponder that on your coffee break.

               In previous years the standard for tournament qualification was to win 40 percent of your games, generally eight victories. That has been shelved at least for one year by a much different system.

               The CIAC changed the girls tournament format this season adding a fifth division to match the boys tournament and in an effort to avoid byes, double-byes and long layoffs should not enough teams qualify in a division under the old rules, the decision was made to fill out 32 spots in each division.

               Let’s hope this is a one-and-and-done experiment.

               Teams finished their regular season schedules last week and here’s what you have. A total of 117 teams would have qualified under the old eight-win system. Another 43 teams with less than eight wins have qualified this year, including one team with two wins and 14 teams with five wins or less. Only 21 teams DID NOT qualify.

               This is no surprise; it was a possibility when the new system was installed this year. But, this is the best we can do? The only way we can avoid byes and double byes is by lowering the qualification bar so low in some cases that even the world champion limbo competitor can’t get under it.

               The state tournament should be a goal not a given. It should be a big deal not a done deal. I was not in favor of lowering the requirement years ago when the requirement was lowered from a .500 winning percentage to 40 percent. I always felt if you can’t win half of your games you don’t deserve to go to the post-season party. But, that’s old news and the 40 percent rule has grown on me.

               But this? Shouldn’t there be a reasonable measure of success to extend the season? I don’t think, 3, 4, 5 wins meets that measuring stick.

               League strength differs as we all know and there will probably be a handful of competitive games from teams below the eight-win mark. Talking with Adam Brutting, coach of BL champion Nonnewaug, Saturday at the BL Tournament, he was concerned with probable opponent five-win Ledyard in the first round which comes out of the Eastern Athletic Conference that features powerhouses New London, Norwich Free Academy and Bacon Academy.

               Early round blowouts are part of every tournament  but you have to set the bar somewhere. Many of the games will be lopsided practice sessions that don’t need to happen and will the experience benefit either team? Probably not. Talked to a few Athletic Directors and coaches around the state over the weekend and to a person that were against the new system. A couple of then had teams that qualified with five wins and were quite blunt – “We don’t belong there.”

               So why are they playing you ask. For the experience and parental pressure. We may not like the system, but it is what it is so let’s go play. From a competitive perspective? They didn’t expect much.

               Several actually questioned whether they should compete and made a decision. And a tip of the cap to Terryville which took itself out of consideration with two wins and opted to decline the invitation. Athletic Director Mark Fowler and coach Tom Morgan deserve credit for making the decision that it is not in the program’s  best interests.

                This too will pass. I hope and expect. In the end the best will prevail. But there is a farcical nature to some of the early rounds. Let’s go back to four divisions – do we really have to do what the boys do? Is it in the best interests of the girls’ tournament? Push most of the schools of choice out of Class S (I haven’t seen the vo-ags impacting here) but bring some of the true small schools like Canton back to Class S to strengthen the division.

                 Most importantly make qualifying for the state tournament a testament to a measure of success again, not a result of fitting into a numbers game. Bring back the excitement of getting there as opposed questioning whether we should be there and if  we should go there.

                 Make this year’s state tournament a one and done.

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