PDT Sports Writer
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a series of articles relating to an interview earlier this week with Tim Stried, OHSAA Director of Information Services. The full video interview will be posted on the Daily Times website later this week.
Hindsight is a very powerful tool, especially in regards to an athletic tournament.
The OHSAA recognizes 16 varsity sports, with six of the postseason events — baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, softball and volleyball — using brackets as voted upon by the coaches to decide opponents for each team in order to advance. Each of the six district athletic boards have different ways to allow teams to settle the score when it comes to who will represent their district.
Each year, the setups cause a team to cry foul after the fact, claiming their season was cut short prematurely.
“That is a topic of conversation at different meetings that I’ve attended,” OHSAA Board member and Wheelersburg Superintendent Mark Knapp said. “Our summer conference in June, that was a topic of discussion among the different district boards.”
In the Southeast District, a geographical seeding format is used where teams are sent to sectionals based upon proximity and the number of schools each sectional has to work with. For example, last year the Division III boys basketball tournament had 32 teams in the three sectional sites.
The top five seeds in the Jackson sectional last year (in order) were Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Ironton, Valley and Minford. At the time of the tournament draw, the teams had combined to go 76-14.
In comparison, the top five seeds in the Waverly sectional (Sardinia Eastern, Peebles, Piketon, Chillicothe Huntington and North Adams) were 63-28 and the Athens sectional (Nelsonville-York, Wellston, Belpre, Chillicothe Southeastern and Federal Hocking) were 57-31. All of the top four seeds in each of the three sectionals, with the exception of Belpre which was upset by No. 6 Zane Trace, advanced to the Southeast District Tournament at Ohio University.
The Jackson sectional proved to be the strongest as the Panthers, Trojans and Fighting Tigers captured the three regional spots. Portsmouth had to beat Chesapeake in the semifinals and Ironton in the finals to punch a ticket to Columbus, where the Trojans eventually finished as Division III State Runners-Up.
“Traditionally there are stronger teams in one area that have to knock each other off, maybe in the sectional tournament,” Clay Superintendent and former OHSAA District Board member Tony Mantell said. “That’s what coaches argue about and I understand what they’re saying about that, but we’ve got to go beyond that.”
Other districts, such as the Central District, use an open draw format to determine its playoff scheduling. The practice allows stronger teams to pick and choose when and where they want to play, no matter where the sectionals are held.
It does allow the strong teams to avoid the top seed as much as possible. In Division I boys basketball, Columbus Northland was the top overall seed and decided to play in the Marysville sectional.
The next two seeds, Columbus Walnut Ridge and Powell Olentangy Liberty played in the Reynoldsburg sectional while No. 4 Pickerington Central and No. 5 Westerville North played at Plain City Jonathan Alder. The next-highest seed the Vikings had in the Marysville sectional was No. 9 Lewis Center Olentangy Orange.
Ultimately, Northland could not make it out of its district as Reynoldsburg ended the Vikings’ season. According to Knapp, the Central District has reported financial losses with the open draw format while teams are driving past closer sectional sites within their district to play in tournament games at other sites.
“They are considering doing away with the open draw,” Knapp said. “They’re getting some really horrible match-ups.”
According to OHSAA Director of Information Services Tim Stried, the six OHSAA districts have not decided on which style works the best for everyone to use.
“It’s really up to each school and each coach on how their philosophy is on that,” Stried said. “Will there be a uniformity in open draw versus seeded draw? There’s been discussions about that, about how we want to address that going forward because it is a little confusing some times.”
The monetary struggles have not calmed rumblings from the coaches association for the Southeast District to switch. One of the major issues school administrators see with the open draw format is traveling.
Currently, the distance one-way from Sardinia Eastern, the westernmost portion of the district, to Belpre on the other extreme is more than 140 miles. The northernmost school of the district is Thornville Sheridan, which is barely over 100 miles northeast of Portsmouth.
“Our Southeast board has not gone to an open draw, we do not believe that is in the best interest of our member schools,” Knapp said.
Mantell echoed Knapp’s sentiments, stating the student aspect of student-athlete is the main focal point.
“We’re going to put people’s children on a school bus on a school night,” Mantell said. “Do we want them, on a Tuesday night, to be riding a school bus for three hours and have to go back to school the next day?”
The term gerrymandering, normally used in the political world, was something Knapp struck down in regards to how the districts were originally formed. While consolidation and redistricting could be a solution for the region, schools such as Amanda-Clearcreek have applied for the district but have failed.
Mantell said the possibility to rework some of the districts has not been taken off the table. Mantell also said the move towards making the tournaments more selective instead of letting everyone participate will not make any major progress for some time.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.