12/1/19

The 2019 Fall High School season will officially come to an end this Saturday with the playing of all 6 State Football Championship games. Football is the one sport that uses a selection committee to determine the 16-team play-off bracket. This year each classification had their own committee with between 7 and 9 members. The members were a combination of coaches, athletic directors other school representatives and media members.

This year ESN did a live Bracket reveal show which drew more than 40,000 viewers and gave us an up close look at how this process is completed. Our set area was literally adjacent to the 2A selection crew so as we set up it was interesting to hear the discussion of how they assigned each seed from 1-16.

We came to understand that there were no must do’s and don’ts other than seeding their selections 1 thru 16. However, the committees did look to try and avoid paring 2 teams from the same league in the early rounds and they did take travel into consideration in some cases but these were not guaranteed.

Once the committees listed their 16 where 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15 and so on they looked at how the brackets could play out in several scenarios. They then would go back through and check to see if there were any adjustments anyone may see or discuss such as switching say a 3 to a 4 and the 4 to a 3 which allowed an eastern Washington team to stay on the east side and a west side team to stay on the west side. Again, travel isn’t a must but can be a consideration and the committees understanding the cost and wanting fan bases to be able to get to the games they worked hard to accommodate as many as possible.

So how did they do? We take a look at each classification and see how the committee’s did with the obvious goal of having the final 4 made up of the 1-2-3-4 seeds:

1B

This bracket wasn’t released during the bracket show but a week later because they only play an 8-team State Tournament due to the smaller number of schools who play the 8-man game. When they did release the bracket it looked like this:

1 Odessa, 2 Naselle, 3 Almira-Coulee-Hartline, 4 Entiat, 5 Lyle/Wishram, 6 Lummi, 7 Quilcene and 8 Selkirk

The committee was dead on with the 8-man bracket not missing a beat with 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3 in the Semi-Finals. #1 Odessa supported the committee’s confidence with an 82-24 win the quarters and an 84-20 win in the Semi’s. The Tigers will take on #2 Naselle.

The Comets were met with some maybe thinking they got the #2 seed just to give something to the west side of the mountains. After slipping past #7 Quilcene  50-46 in the quarters the doubters were out in full force and even though #3 A-C-H had to travel to Tumwater to face the Comets many believed the 8 man Championship just might get played in Eastern Washington. (Even though the Championship locations were announced and all in the Tacoma area, the WIAA left open the possibility of shifting the Title game to Eastern Washington if 2 East of the mountain teams were in the Title game.)

Naselle held only a 32-30 2-point lead over the Warrriors and the debate over 2 and 3 was being set up. But the Comets cleared up any misconceptions with a brilliant 2nd half outscoring A-C-H 38-14 for a final of 70-44. This means its a 1 vs 2 with the 2 teams coming in off of scoring a total of 152 combined points from the Semi-finals.

Committee Grade: A+

2B

The discussion around the 2B’s was how to get the top 4 out of the Central 2B. The Central 2B is home to the last 3 State Champions including 2 in a row by the Kalama Chinooks. The Nooks were again in position but so was Napavine and Adna both Champsions within the past 10 years and then the #1 ranked and undefeated Onalaska Loggers. The Loggers had wins over both Napavine and Adna but did not face Kalama. The Nooks lost to Napavine and 1A LaCenter and came into post season with a 7-2 record.

The committee of course had to consider the east where powerhouses such as Liberty (Spangle), Okanogan, Lind-Ritzville-Sprague and Colfax. It was seemingly a down year with a lot of parity on the east side but Chewelah stuck out and was the one the committee had to figure where they best belonged. Here is how the bracket unfolded:

1 Onalaska, 2 Napavine, 3 Kalama, 4 Chewelah, 5 Adna, 6 Lake Roosevelt, 7 Colfax, 8 Asotin, 9 Tri Cities Prep, 10 Toledo, 11 Friday Harbor, 12 Davenport, 13 Tonasket, 14 Rainier, 15 Mabton, 16 Brewster

There were only 2 minor upsets in the opening round with #10 Toledo beating #7 Colfax and #9 Tri Cities Prep blanking #8 Asotin. In the Quarters numbers 1-2-3 all advanced collectively blanking their opponents 148-0. This left the 4 vs 5 match-up which just as easily could have been reversed but completely dismissing the eastern teams from the top 4 and giving all 4 not only to the west side but the same district would have been tough to justify.

In the end it would have been justified as Adna knocked off Chewelah to advance to the final 4. The 2B final 4 were the 1-2-3 and 5 teams. In the Semi-‘s #1 Onalaska was looking to get to their first ever State Title game against the #5 Pirates and rolled with a big 44-13 win. Meantime, there was no question on the seeding since Napavine had beaten Kalama head to head but it was the 2 time defending Champs unwillingness to give up their trophy and pulling out an incredible 44-42 OT win over the Tigers setting up a 1 vs 3 but 2 time defending Champion #3 Title tilt.

Committee Grade: A (Only a hesitation to putting 4 teams from the same District, 3 from the same league into the top 4 kept this from an A+ grade.)

1A

This committee had by far the hardest assignment of all. In the 2B, 2A there was only 1 undefeated team and in 3A there were 2 while 4A had 4. The 1A committee had to deal with 7 unbeaten teams along with 2 1-loss teams that most believed could easily be in the running for a shot at the Championship. Mt Baker and Lynden Christian each had one loss to each other as they played each other twice. Rounding out the top 10 also included the defending Champs Colville, who came in with a 7-2 mark.

So how to come up with the seeding in this bracket was exceptionally challenging. There were many undefeated teams that appeared to have played pretty soft schedules but was it fair to dismiss their achievements over teams with losses? The team most all agreed on was their number 1 team, Royal. There was no real opposition to making the Knights the #1 team but after that it was a chore to figure this out.

Here is what they came up with and in this case included the regular season records of the top 10:

1 Royal 9-0, 2 La Salle 9-0, 3 Montesano 9-0, 4 La Center 9-0, 5 Mt Baker 8-1, 6 Deer Park 9-0, 7 Lynden Christian 8-1, 8 Omak 9-0, 9 Colville 7-2, 10 Cascade Christian 9-0, 11 Zillah, 12 Hoquiam, 13 Connell, 14 Meridian, 15 Cashmere, 16 Charles Wright

In the opening round the upsets began with #13 Connell ousting #4 La Center. The dominoes really fell in the Quarterfinals with several upsets including #13 Connell over #5 Mt Baker 14-9 meantime #7 Lynden Christian rolled over #2 La Salle 31-7 and #6 Deer Park made the long journey to Montesano and beat the #3 Bulldogs 20-17. Only Royal avoided the upset bug with a powerful 62-6 win over Omak.

In the Semifinals #1 Royal did not slow down with another impressive performance shutting out Connell 42-0. In the other bracket it was Deer Park at Lynden Christian even though the Stags were the 6 seed and the Lyncs the 7. We’d like to see this rule changed where regardless of what side you are on the bracket the higher seed should always be the home team. If this were in place #6 Deer Park would have been able to stay close to their Spokane home but instead had to drive 6+ hours for the 2nd week in a row to play a loser out game. The Stags nearly pulled it off but fell short 14-7.

This leaves #1 Royal to face #7 Lynden Christian. The difference between a #7 and a 2 or 3 ranking maybe even a discussion for #1 was L-C’s 24-8 loss to 5 seed Mt Baker. But again the one team the committee had no issue with was Royal and they are 3-0 in the State Play-offs outscoring their opponents 168-13. It appears it doesn’t matter what seed you are behind #1 you surely have your work cut out to try and topple the Knights.

Committee Grade: B (Really close to a B+ and maybe even an A- but the one thing the committee really missed on was putting the 1 loss Mt Baker as the 5 seed and L-C at 7. Had those two teams been reversed the grade easily would have been a B+. Connell was also a surprise but upsets do happen and over-looking this one who came in with a 6-3 record with all the other teams is reasonable.)

2A

There was only 1 undefeated team Tumwater who rolled through the regular season while also knocking off some upper classification teams in their non-league games including a 6A Oregon team. The 2A committee also had to contend with some of the traditional powerhouses such as Lynden, Archbishop Murphy, Prosser and of course 2 time defending Champions Hockinson.

Of course the season ending injuries to 2 high profile Hawks players put the defending champs at a disadvantage plus an early season non-league loss to AB-Murphy. Steilacoom had 2 early losses to 4A Union and at Lynden in a 56-47 shoot-out. The Sentinels also got some players back that were not available early in the season and they finished strong with 7 straight wins.

Here is what the committee came up with:

1 Tumwater, 2 Steilacoom, 3 Lynden, 4 Hockinson, 5 Lakewood, 6 Clarkston, 7 Prosser, 8 Archbishop Murphy, 9 North Kitsap, 10 Eatonville, 11 Washougal, 12 Sequim, 13 Ellensburg, 14 Othello, 15 Ridgefield, 16 Franklin Pierce

In the end…BULLSEYE! Another perfect bracket with the top 4 in the Semi-Finals. It would have been an ultra perfect bracket had #11 Washougal not beaten #6 Clarkston, 14-13. Had Clarkston won the quarterfinals would have been 1-8.

The committee got bonus points though for ranking Steilacoom #2, despite 2 losses in front of 1 loss and 2 time defending champion Hockinson and 1 loss Lynden who had beaten Steilly earlier in the season. Who would have questioned putting Steilacoom behind either or both of these teams but instead the committee looked at how the teams were playing and came up with the perfect final 4 which is now moving into clearly the best two teams at this time for sure as Tumwater hammered Hockinson 55-7 and Steilacoom avenged their earlier loss to Lynden  with a 42-0 shut-out win.

Committee Grade: A+ (Had Clarkston won to get to the Quarters it would have been A++!)

3A

With perennial power O’Dea undefeated including a win over defending Champs Eastside Catholic this was an easy 1-2 ranking. O’Dea 1 and E-C 2, combined these two teams have won or been in 8 straight State title games. This might have made it seem simple to seed this bracket but after the top two there was certainly much to talk about.

The 3 and 4 seeds both came from the Pierce County League based a lot on the opponents both played and how they performed. The other issue to grapple with was what to do with Marysville-Pilchuck who was undefeated coming into the State Tournament but with a perceived weak schedule . The committee also had to deal with many other teams who were close, who were finishing the season strong and those who had history.

In the end this is how they seeded the 3A bracket:

1 O’Dea, 2 Eastside Catholic, 3 Lincoln, 4 Bethel, 5 Kennewick, 6 Marysville-Pilchuck, 7 Bellevue, 8 Mt Spokane, 9 Peninsula, 10 Lakes, 11 Prairie, 12 Yelm, 13 Garfield, 14 Seattle Prep, 15 Squalicum, 16 Kelso

Wouldn’t you know it the committee hit it exactly right through the first round with seeds 1-8 advancing to the quarterfinals. The committee then missed a perfect final four when #5 Kennewick blocked a late PAT from #4 Bethel to pull out a 21-20 win. The scores gave many hope that the two elephants in the room could be beat with O’Dea slipping past Mt Spokane 10-3 while E-C beat Bellevue 50-21 but Lincoln dismissed M-P 56-21.

In the end, the King of the Hill’s will once again square off for the title guaranteeing that the 3A Championship will reside either at O’Dea or E-C for the 5th time in the last 6 years.

Committee Grade: A (Committee missed an A+ by a PAT)

4A

The 4A classification was much tougher with undefeated Kennedy Catholic, Camas, Lake Stevens and Graham-Kapowsin to sort out followed by another level of teams just on the heels of the 4 unbeatens in Puyallup, Chiawana, Bothell and Woodinville. Let’s get right to the bracket and what the 4A committee ended up with:

1 Kennedy Catholic, 2 Camas, 3 Lake Stevens, 4 Graham-Kapowsin, 5 Bothell, 6 Chiawana, 7 Puyallup, 8 Woodinville, 9 Skyview, 10 Eastlake, 11 Mount Si, 12 Kentwood, 13 Gonzaga Prep, 14 Union, 15 Eastmont, 16 Wenatchee

When the bracket was released there was certainly many who disagreed with the final product especially Lake Stevens who had finished 2nd last year thought they had the inside track to the #1 seed and were disappointed with the 3 spot. G-K also wondered what else they needed to do to be in the top 2 after beating the number 7 seeded Puyallup and an 8th ranked 6A Sheldon, an Oregon team.

But the committee who made some tough choices were correct in some but overlooked others such as #11 Mt Si who beat #6 Chiawana 46-21 on the road in the opening round. Lake Stevens held off the defending champs #14 Union 28-21 and #7 Puyallup survived #10 Eastlake 40-34.

In the quarters Mt Si stunned Lake Stevens who clearly had their sights set on a return to the big game but were ousted by the Wildcats. The upsets continued with #8 Woodinville running away from #1 Kennedy Catholic and a mild upset in Bothell edging G-K 30-27. The Eagles had the potential tying field goal blocked with just seconds left to play.

So the committee lost their #1, #3 and #4 teams before the Semi-Finals as #2 Camas rolled for the only non-upset win. The Papermakers hosted #11 Mt Si in the Semi-finals while two of those “next” level teams collided for a chance to go to the Title game and it was #5 Bothell coming way with a 31-21 win over #8 Woodinville.

Committee Grade: C+ (This was the 2nd most difficult bracket to figure out in our view but only 1 of the 4 made the Semi-finals and 1 in the Title game. Mt Si likely was marked down for inexperience figuring they were a year away from a big run when they certainly proved they were ready now. The experience of Bothell and Woodinville may have been slightly over-looked but more so maybe the strength of the NPSL and SPSL were over rated a tad. Regardless the 4A bracket ended up with the most misses which is why we can only go to a C+. We should point out in the committee’s defense in the quarter finals they had everyone right except for Mt Si, it was the quarterfinal round that led to the 4A undoing.)

Overall the committee’s were pretty darn good. Out of 24 Semi-Final teams there were 16 ranked 1-4 (66%) and 19 1-5 (79%). In the finals there were 5 #1’s in the game and 4 #2’s. That’s 75%. 10 of 12 teams were ranked 1-3 or 83%.

In comparison to last year’s boys basketball tournament where 16 top 4 teams were in the semi-finals and 18 1-5 were in the semi’s but only 8 of the top 4 were in the finals for a 66%. It doesn’t look like it was far off from the committee system in football except when you consider there were 2 #11 seeds in the Championship game along with a 6 and a 7 seed. There was also a 6 and four 7 seeds, a 10 two 11’s and a 13 in the semi-finals. This is a total of 9 teams seeded 6 or higher that made the semi-finals. In football only 5 teams made the top 4 a 6, 7, 8, 11 and 13.

Granted this is a very light comparison but would a committee been able to ferret out some of these misses in the basketball tournament? Would a committee been able to identify teams on the move up or struggling down the stretch? Or is it better simply to let tournaments play out and understand there is no absolute way of creating a perfect tournament.

It is important to note no matter how the teams are selected or seeded every single tournament bracket is set up for the favorite or higher seeds to win and when there is an upset it creates chaos. The only way to further reduce the damage of big upsets is to re-seed the tournaments after each round. This would of course pretty much eliminate any chance of a big upset winner of having a chance to advance deep in a bracket simply because they would always have to play the highest seed. We literally hate this format and love the chaos and opportunity one big win can have for a team in a tournament.

Like we said earlier the only adjustment we’d like to see in the football tournament is that the higher seed gets to be the home team. To reiterate we think it was unfair Deer Park had to drive from Spokane to the west side 2 weeks in a row simply because a lower seed upset a higher seeded team. They were seeded 6 and Lynden Christian 7 there is an advantage in football of being able to play at home or close to home, your fans get to be at the game and it is an earned right in our view. We’d encourage the WIAA executive board to seriously consider this relatively simple change.

Overall though we believe the committee system is better for the initial seeding process so far and it will be interesting to see if other sports decide to follow suit. If other sports decide they want to observe the football process for another year or two to see if the consistency remains high that is a reasonable approach. In the end the idea is to match up teams as best as possible in the 1st round and then all bets are off and let each team battle through the bracket they were assigned. There is nothing like State Tournament play-off action once the ball is in play and no matter where a team is seeded it comes down to making the plays when they need to be made, this is what makes the tournament so awesome.

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