One thing that will always generate arguments is how any state tournament is arranged. If you have one tournament for all regardless of size, it will be seen as unfair that schools have to compete with schools 10 to 20 times their enrollment. How teams get in will be argued ad infinitum. Should teams be lined up in some random order, or should they be arranged based on record?
The state basketball tournament was just one class for its first nearly 60 years (except just before World War II). The movie “Hoosiers” was about a tiny high school taking on a big urban high school in the Indiana state championship — something that usually didn’t happen because larger schools would knock out the small school on the way to state. That’s why Reedsville and Dodgeville are fondly remembered by long-time Wisconsin high school basketball fans, because they were Wisconsin’s “Hickory.”
If you look at the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s state tournament records, you will see some odd team records — that a school was 1-2 at state one particular year. That’s because the state tournament used to include winners’ and losers’ brackets. Every participant apparently was guaranteed two games in some years. It’s not clear when the loser’s bracket was eliminated and the tournament played as a single-elimination format from subregional to state, but that was addition by subtraction, because the won-or-done format makes the postseason so great and so heartbreaking.
The tournament went to two classes in 1973, three classes in 1975, and four divisions in 1991. When classes started to be added, the largest class — first Class A, then Division 1 — had eight teams, whereas the other classes or divisions had four teams each. This changed when Division 5 was added; now, all five divisions have four state participants, after a one-year experiment with Division I “super-sectionals” (a game played between the sectional final and the start of state) an idea that should have been dropped before it was introduced.
Once again, WIAA’s inept decision to reduce the number of Division 1 schools in the state tournament from eight to four is rearing its ugly head. Just like last year’s tournament, schools in the basketball-rich Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha area are getting short-changed.
Last year, there were five teams in the Horlick Sectional that were ranked in the Associated Press state poll, including three of the top seven. Only one advanced to state.
This year, it’s even worse. There were four teams among the AP’s top 10 Division 1 teams assigned to the West Allis Central Sectional and two others that received votes. Brookfield Central is No. 1; Milwaukee King is fourth; Case is ninth; Milwaukee Hamilton is 10th, and Park and Milwaukee Riverside each received one point in the voting by a statewide media panel.
It is an absolute farce that either Brookfield Central or Milwaukee King — again, the Nos. 1 and 4 teams in the AP state poll and the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the WisSports.net state poll — won’t even reach the sectional final as they’ll play each other Thursday night in a sectional semifinal.
Like last year, there isn’t another sectional in the state that remotely boasts so many exceptional teams — and yet just one of them will go to Madison for the state tournament.
If the WIAA truly cared about giving the prep basketball fans throughout the state the best and most entertaining state tournament, it would never have reduced the number of D-1 schools in the state tournament in 2011 just to establish an unnecessary fifth division.
The WIAA’s courageous decision to right a wrong and give what once were small, overmatched Division 1 schools a fighting chance to get to the state boys basketball tournament as newly minted Division 2 schools has restored some excitement to the WIAA’s most-followed tournament. Did you see some of the results of Saturday’s Division 2 regional championships?
Mount Horeb outlasted Monona Grove in two overtimes. Sauk Prairie won a double overtime battle with Reedsburg. La Crosse Central also needed a pair of extra sessions to pull away from Mississippi Valley Conference rival Holmen.
Of the 16 games played in Division 2 on Saturday night, five of them needed at least one overtime to determine a winner. Of the other 11, seven were decided by fewer than 10 points.
More importantly, five of the 16 Division 2 winners Saturday night (Rhinelander, Greendale, Milwaukee Tech, Milwaukee Pius XI and La Crosse Central) were Division 1 teams in 2010 — the final year of the four-division WIAA tournament series, when eight teams comprised the largest division. Two other regional champions (Sauk Prairie and Shawano) had been Division 1 teams at some point during the final years of the four-division format.
Of those seven, only two — Pius in 2005 and Rhinelander in 2001 — ever made trips to state as Division 1 schools after 1995. That tells me the WIAA’s control of enrollment ranges in place the last three years are working. …
In 2010, just three of the eight schools in the Division 1 field were from the fertile hardwood of southeastern Wisconsin. In 2014, it’s quite possible the same number of sectionals in Divisions 1 and 2 could produce six.
That’s SIX out of eight sectionals. Apparently, just not the right six.
And that doesn’t even take into account the star-studded Milwaukee-area teams in Divisions 3, 4 and 5. Like Brown Deer in Division 3. Or Whitefish Bay Dominican or Racine St. Catherine’s in Division 4. Or Burlington Catholic Central or Milwaukee Academy of Science in Division 5.
The same problems that exist in the five-division format — loaded sectionals like the one featuring Brookfield Central and Milwaukee King — existed in the four division format. And back then the WIAA had as many as four sectionals to divide the talent and still struggled to avoid state tourney-worthy battles.
But that’s a problem across all WIAA tournaments, not just basketball, and it does need fixing. I applaud the WIAA and its efforts to preserve geographical representation in its state tournament fields, but not when the qualifiers aren’t representative of a the best teams in a given geographical area.
I’d probably feel differently on this issue if the five-division format were truly depriving us of “best and most entertaining state tournament” but that isn’t remotely the case.
In the three years of five-division play, we’ve been treated to exceptional players from each of the lower divisions.
Guys like Merrill’s Paul Jesperson (Division 2 in 2011), Onalaska’s Matt Thomas (Division 2 in 2012 and ’13), La Crosse Aquinas’ Bronson Koenig (Division 3 in 2011 and ’13) and Marshall’s Cam Ward (Division 3 in 2012). Or Whitefish Bay Dominican’s dynamic duo of Diamond Stone and Duane Wilson (Division 4 in 2012 and ’13). And, of course, Sheboygan Lutheran’s Sam Dekker (Division 5 in 2012), one of the most electrifying players ever to make it to state. …
Of the 15 games played at the Kohl Center a year ago, nine were decided by single-digit margins. Of the six that weren’t, three were Division 1 games.
At the end of the day, the only ones who who could possibly be griping about the 4-year-old format of the WIAA tournament are the coaches who made the most of the four-division format to get into the Kohl Center via the backdoor.
When I started paying attention to high school basketball, Class A consisted of schools of 800 or more in enrollment, with Class B 400 to 800, and Class C smaller than 400. That changed to where Class A was the 128 biggest schools, with B and C splitting the rest. That modification meant that every Class A school would have the same number of games to get to state — regional semifinals and finals, followed by sectional semifinals and finals — because Class A was supposed to represent about half of statewide student enrollment (which is not the same thing as half of the number of high schools). Some Class C schools needed six games — two subregionals, two regionals and two sectionals — jammed into 11 days to go to state.
With any postseason format, of course, there will be schools that benefit and schools that don’t. Twice during the 1980s I saw Monona Grove — the smallest team in what then was the Badger Conference — get routinely hammered in the conference season, only to face schools its own size in the Class B postseason and go farther than one would have expected.
When the four-division format began in 1991, divisions 1 and 2 had roughly the same number of schools each, and divisions 3 and 4 had roughly the same (but more than 1 or 2) number of schools each. That resulted in the oddity that some Division 1 schools could get to state having played just three pre-state games. What fixed that was the inclusion, starting in 2000, of private schools from the former Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association. Letting in the private schools meant that the divisions were increased in size from the bottom, because most private schools are considerably smaller than their public-school neighbors. (More about private schools later.) Interestingly given the trend of decreasing high-school-age population, especially in rural areas, the number of Wisconsin high schools has actually increased. The trend of small school districts merging really hasn’t gone beyond the wave in the ’50s and ’60s. (I can think of three in the past 25 years — two are Blair-Taylor and River Ridge, which was the former West Grant and Bloomington. Ondassagon closed, though they went out with a bang by sending their last girls basketball team to state.) Some religious schools have opened, other religious schools now have sports programs, and the growth of Milwaukee charter schools means nearly every year features at least one team you’ve never heard of in the brackets.
The teams that generally don’t fare well are those at the bottom of their division. Prentice’s girls basketball team won the 1992 Division 4 title, only to be bumped up to Division 3 one year later, to lose to Cuba City. While I was covering the winning Cubans’ festivities, Mrs. Presteblog was listening to Prentice coach Joe Foytek say that “Cuba City doesn’t belong in Division 3, and neither do we.” In contrast, when Ripon won two state football titles in three years, the Tigers’ players, coaches and fans were relieved that they were one of the bigger Division 4 schools instead of one of the smallest Division 3 schools.
In the next to last year before the four-division basketball tournament, I announced a regional final between the top two boys’ basketball teams in Class C, number one ranked Bloomington and number two ranked Iowa–Grant. I–G was about twice the enrollment of Bloomington, and I–G won. (The regional final was in I–G’s gym, which undoubtedly also helped.) Going to four divisions didn’t help Prentice, because enrollments change — not only your schools’ head count, but everyone else’s.
The four-division format was intended to address the complaints of the smallest schools by giving them their own division. At the same time, though, the smallest Division 1 schools complained that they had almost no chance to go to state because they too were playing schools twice their own size in the playoffs. That was dealt with to some extent by going to five divisions, though as you’ve already read, some still don’t think the right teams (read: Milwaukee teams) are getting to state.
The truth is that the more deserving teams, based on their regular season performances, are probably getting to state now than in the past. Seeding teams by regional or half-sectional, with higher seeds hosting through the regional finals, means that tournament upsets are less likely, though certainly not impossible, particularly when conference rivals meet for the third time in the postseason. Going to neutral-site sectional games is also more fair. (Madison La Follette may not have gotten to state had its epic sectional semifinal against crosstown rival Madison West been played at West, or somewhere else.)
Woelful’s comments about not enough Milwaukee teams going to state — despite the presence at state of Whitefish Bay Dominican in Division 4, Brown Deer in Division 3, Wisconsin Lutheran and Greendale in Division 2, and Germantown, Milwaukee King and Mukwonago in Division 1 — bring up a motivation for going from four divisions to five. One reason the WIAA went to five divisions was to stop the trend of decreasing state attendance. You’ll never get a WIAA official to admit this, but Milwaukee teams do not draw well at state. Madison-area schools do draw well at state, but Lodi in Division 3 is the only school remotely close to Madison at state. So if you read about a drop in state attendance, that’s why.
Here’s another potential reason, something I can’t believe the WIAA didn’t consider. The old format featured 16 games — seven (four quarterfinals, two semifinals and one championship game) in Division 1 and three each (two semifinals and one championship) in the other three divisions, in eight sessions — Thursday and Friday morning, afternoon and evening, and Saturday afternoon and evening. Going to five divisions eliminates one game, but more importantly one session (Thursday morning), which means, since tickets are sold for two games per session, one fewer opportunity to sell tickets, concessions and WIAA swag. (The divisions 5 through 3 championships are Saturday during the day, and the division 2 and 1 title games are Saturday night.)
It seems to me that if the WIAA is concerned about revenue, the WIAA needs to re-expand Division 1 to eight teams. That most likely would mean adding two Wednesday sessions, expanding the tournament to four days, and adding four teams’ fans (and their wallets) to the Madison mix. Another possibility would be going, somehow, to three sessions on Wednesday and four sessions on Friday, which probably would mean starting at 8 a.m. and ending around midnight, similar to the night NCAA basketball tournament games held in the Eastern time zone.
The other possibility that comes to mind is a week-long state tournament similar to Iowa, whose state tournament has four eight-team divisions. State started Monday and ends Saturday, with third-place and championship games today and Saturday. (However, only semifinal and final games are live on TV, on a network that could be described as statewide in name only. I’m not sure you could get the WIAA TV network to agree to carry 24 games and dump their prime-time schedules for two entire weeks.)
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin State Journal’s Art Kabelkowsky reports:
A petition to add a multiplier to private school enrollments for the purpose of division classification has been signed on by at least 10 percent of the WIAA membership, setting the stage for a vote on the issue at the April 16 annual meeting — the one time and place where constitutional amendments can be approved.
The Board of Control approved the petition Tuesday to present the proposed constitutional amendment to its membership at the annual meeting.
The petition calls for the actual enrollment number of every WIAA-member private, religious or independent school to be multiplied by 1.65. The resulting number would be considered that school’s official WIAA enrollment for placement into enrollment-based divisions for postseason play.
The enrollment multiplier would shift several private schools into higher divisions (and some public schools into lower divisions) across the entire spectrum of sports — from football to basketball to track and field and more.
For instance, it appears if the 1.65 enrollment multiplier had been applied to this year’s five-division basketball postseason:
• Three Division 2 schools (Milwaukee Pius XI, Green Bay Notre Dame and Wisconsin Lutheran) would move up to Division 1.
• Five schools (Madison Edgewood, Appleton Fox Valley Lutheran, Milwaukee St. Thomas More, Watertown Luther Prep and all-girls Milwaukee St. Joan Antida) would move up from Division 3 to Division 2.
• Fifteen private schools would jump from Division 4 to Division 3, and a similar number would move up from Division 5 to Division 4.
Changes would appear to be even more prevalent in the seven-division football playoff series.
Public- and private-school representatives have been debating the possibility of introducing an enrollment multiplier since the WIAA first began to discuss admitting the members of the former Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association.
WISAA schools first were absorbed into the WIAA membership in the 2000-2001 school year. No enrollment multiplier has been applied — although schools have had the opportunity to “opt up” into a higher enrollment division for particular sports.
Notice that state has seven Milwaukee schools? Well, state has five private schools — Green Bay’s NEW Lutheran and Sheboygan Area Lutheran in Division 5, Whitefish Bay Dominican in Division 4, and Wisconsin Lutheran in Division 2 — and could have three private-school state champions. Once upon a time, about 10 percent of the state’s high schools were private, so having one-fourth of the state field be from private schools offends some observers’ sense of proportionality.
The issue, of course, has to do with the small private schools from large areas — not just NEW Lutheran or Dominican, but Burlington Catholic Central (which draws from a much larger area than Burlington), and schools still in the state girls field heading into Saturday’s sectional finals, including Green Bay Notre Dame and Milwaukee Pius XI in Division 2; Kettle Moraine Lutheran in Division 3; Eau Claire Regis, Onalaska Luther, Fond du Lac Springs (which beat Oshkosh Lourdes Thursday) and Dominican (which beat Racine Prairie Thursday) in Division 4; and Wisconsin Rapids Assumption (which beat Wausau Newman Thursday) and Milwaukee Heritage Christian in Division 5. Each of those schools is from a community with Division 1 or Division 2 schools (Fond du Lac High School and Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln are two of the biggest high schools in the state), and thus a huge potential enrollment base, playing against schools from areas of the state in keeping with their small enrollments. On the other hand, the number of private schools that do well in athletics is considerably smaller than the number of private schools, and trying to handicap the former will result in crushing at least some of the latter when schools that really don’t belong together end up playing each other in an early-round game.
If you notice a similarity between the how-many-schools-at-state argument, the how-big-should-the-divisions-be argument and the public-vs.-private-at-state argument, you are an observant reader. It should bother even the most enthusiastic high school basketball fan that the question of who belongs at state is a question whose answer depends on whom you ask and that person’s definition of the word “fair.” Life is not fair in even a general sense, and there is no way to make a high school sports postseason “fair” because of the obvious mutually exclusive goals.
Obsessing about who should go to state also loses sight of the fact that, as an educational experience (which high school sports is supposed to be), the journey is more important than the destination. Getting to state requires winning four or five consecutive games, with no slip-ups and no bad nights. At the risk of offending my 1979-83 self, who was not happy the two years La Follette missed state and the year La Follette lost in the state semifinal, the objective should be to get to state, regardless of how you decide who goes to state. To win state is a great goal, but if you think your season is a failure because you didn’t win state, you’re probably going to experience a lot of disappointment in your life.