No matter the format, tourney is exciting

With area girls basketball teams having started tournament action on Saturday and the rest getting into action this week — to be followed next week by the start of the boys’ tournaments — it’s time for the debate regarding the location of games during the first two rounds of the tournament.

Ohio’s basketball (and volleyball, baseball, softball) tournaments traditionally have been divided into sectional, district, regional and state competition. Generally, a team must win two games (or a bye and a win) at each level in order to advance to the next.

For a generation at least, the sectional and district tournaments in basketball had been combined and played at one site. So from 12-16 teams would be assigned to a particular sectional-district and they would play all the games at one location.

A few years ago, the Northeast District Athletic Board decided to have the first two rounds of tournament play moved to school sites. The sectional games are now played at the home site of the better-seeded team.

Four surviving teams then advance to district competition at a predetermined neutral site. From there, the district champ goes on to regional where it joins three other district champs, and the regional winner advances to the state final four.

NEDAB also designated the dates of play for each division — for example, in girls basketball, all Division I and II first-round games in northeast Ohio were played Saturday. Their second-round games will be Thursday. Division III and IV will play Wednesday and Saturday. The boys sectional and district dates also are pre-determined.

Previously, tournament directors had more leeway in when tournament games were played and their decisions sometimes were determined by other events at the particular game site.

A number of fans at this time of the school basketball season express their desire that things go back to the one-site district tournament. One of their main reasons is that fans, coaches, athletic directors, school administrators, media members, etc., have the opportunity to gather in one place to visit, watch basketball, eat in the hospitality room, visit some more, watch more basketball, etc.

Now, with all games in a particular district being played at the same time at different locations, that kind of gathering is no longer possible except for the four teams that advance to the neutral site for district games.

Another plus for the old format was that fans got a chance to see unfamiliar teams and players since most game dates included a doubleheader and sometimes a tripleheader.

That period between games when fans of the teams playing in the first game left, and those who were there for the second game found their seats is a thing of the past for sectional round games. And, in fact, on the boys side, it doesn’t exist at the district level since those games have been scheduled for one game per date. Division III and IV district semifinals games in northeast Ohio are Monday and Tuesday (March 4 & 5), with the final on Friday. In Divisions I and II the semifinals are Wednesday and Thursday (March 6 & 7) with the final on Saturday.

Speaking as a member of the media, it’s easier to cover a single game rather than a doubleheader, but with all the games on the same night, we can’t get to as many games.

But I’ve also been at sectional doubleheaders in which there were less than 30 fans for the first game and even fewer for the second. That is one of the factors that went into NEDAB’s decision to play games at school sites — attendance, or lack thereof.

If one team plays at home, it seems likely that attendance would be better than if both teams had to travel. Plus, the home team can earn some money through concession sales. And, the format rewards teams for being voted a better seed.

In some parts of Ohio, particularly the northwest and southeast where distances between schools are greater, there are still true sectional tournaments. Six to eight teams play at one location and two survivors advance to the district along with two survivors from a neighboring sectional tournament.

But regardless the format — and whether or not you agree with the way things currently are or not — let’s all go out and enjoy another tournament basketball season, when each game could be the final high school game in the career of some student-athletes.

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