Half-Baked: A few things bugging me …

It’s been a month since my last column, and while there is plenty to write about, nothing sticks out as something to write about at length.

The smoke and the flies that have infested our office at the Gazette-Tribune aren’t the only things that are bugging me.

So, here we go.

 * * *

It’s somewhat of a sport in and of itself complaining about the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), especially when you’re one of the small schools out in the sticks that seemingly doesn’t have much say in the association’s decision-making. And I (somewhat gleefully) admit that I did picket the WIAA office when I was in high school, back when it was located in Bellevue.

But after three years of following high school sports here, there are definitely some nits to pick.

First of all, is it too much to ask to get playoff allocations set by the time the season begins? Reclassification, when schools find out which sized fish in which sized pool they are in (2B, 1A, etc.), was completed last spring. Districts can’t finalize the formatting of their playoffs until they know how many state tournament bids they have.

Each district has control over how they run their state qualification playoffs. They’re all a little different, which can be somewhat chaotic as it is. But, for example, the Caribou Trail League should know by the time the season starts whether it has three or four state tournament bids on the line. When I’m asking coaches at the start of the year what they feel their chances are of making state, and they don’t know because they don’t yet know how many spots are available, that’s a problem (and not for me).

I’m sure there is plenty of politicking that goes into the process. Still, set a deadline and get it done, for Pete’s sake.

(Interestingly, the WIAA’s notification of playoff allocations was released this afternoon as I was writing this. But I still say it should have been done at least a month ago.)

 * * *

The politicking with state bids is nothing compared to some of the issues the WIAA has on its table that affect just about everyone.

There still is little consensus over how best to handle the state basketball playoffs. The decision to cut the state tourney down to eight teams from 16 a couple of years ago may save the WIAA money in building rentals, but some schools in outlying areas don’t get to see that savings. For instance, having Entiat drive to PeEll for a “first round state” game two years ago sure didn’t save money for them. Especially in the smaller classifications, there is still a strong desire for the 16-team tournament, though it’s unlikely to be back any time soon.

One of the best suggestions I’ve heard was to hold a four-day 16-team tournament, with high schools in Spokane, Yakima and Tacoma near the “big stadiums” hosting first-day and non-trophy consolation games.

Quarterfinals, semifinals, and trophy games could still be played in the big arenas, and travel costs (especially for east side schools with big distances to travel) would come down as well.

It might even mean that all those tournaments could be played at two sites instead of three. That would save a few bucks, to be sure.

There has also been talk of seeding the football playoffs, statewide, as the 3A and 4A powers on the west side are tired of playing one another before they get to the Tacoma Dome.

Some seeding wouldn’t be a bad idea — within regions, using a playoff points system (which takes strength of schedule into account) — but not statewide.

Again, you would likely run into insane travel costs, either one team playing 400 miles from home (or both teams away from their fans at a central neutral site) for first round state games.

Most years, there’s only a few teams that really have a shot of getting to the Tacoma Dome. For the rest, getting into the tournament is a big deal, and kids should be able to have the expectation of playing the biggest games of their lives where their friends and families can see them.

So if Bellevue and Skyline, in those years that they’re in the same classification, don’t like playing one another early in the playoffs … oh, well. Don’t punish Oroville for it.

And finally, the next round of “major” reclassification, where the classifications themselves are evaluated, will be upon us next year. It’s the age-old argument about competitive balance within classifications, versus having equal access to state tournaments.

In a nutshell, when classifications all are assigned the same number of schools, in some groups you have the largest schools weigh in with more than double the enrollment of the small schools. Especially in football, it’s hard to compete when you are a school of 350 going against a school of 800 for the same playoff bids.

Grouping schools by enrollment instead of by equal numbers has its own pitfalls. Keeping the enrollments fairly equal can result in classifications of wildly different numbers of schools — i.e. 45 schools in, say, 1A and 70 in 2B. The problem there is that if both have 16 state playoff spots, it’s a lot tougher to qualify for one in 2B.

My hope is that a system could be put into place that takes both issues into account. Keeping the enrollments balanced and schools competitive is key to keeping participation numbers up — no one turns out for football just to get beaten up by a team that has three times the number of kids.

But maybe the number of state playoff spots could be proportional to the number of teams in a classification. If your ideal number is to have 25 percent of schools be able to qualify for state, then assign bids accordingly (say, 12 bids for a classification of 45 schools, 18 for a classification of 75).

Yes, all the state tournaments would thus be different. But we already have that at the district and regional levels (not to mention eight-man football, with its eight team tournament), so why not?

 * * *

I’ll be clear on this one, I am not ragging on the officials here. They were merely doing what they have been directed to do.

And, granted, a four-man crew officiating a high school football game has its hands full.

But the way they are mandated to position themselves during PAT kicks is ridiculous. (I even got to see the page in the officials’ guide that verified that this is indeed the case.)

I hadn’t really noticed it until Friday’s Tonasket-Okanogan game, but not having anyone standing under the goalposts is a recipe for trouble. There is no way that the officials can properly judge a kick if they don’t have the correct angle. And indeed, at least one kick judged as good that was at least five yards wide left — which I saw because I was under the goalpost instead of a referee.

Again, I don’t fault the officials. Standing at the goal line, you can’t tell when the kick passes the goalposts if it flies above them. Can’t be done.

At least this is one thing the NFL’s replacement referees have figured out. Though don’t ask Bill Belichick what he thinks about their judgment on kicks.

 * * *

Speaking of officiating, one candidate to put up for joining one of the NFL’s replacement referee crews is the center ref from Saturday’s Tonasket-Cascade game. If there is one thing the replacement refs haven’t done, it’s keep control of the game, much less make the right calls.

They say that fans don’t go to games to watch the refs, but I’d pay to watch this guy. He was confident with his calls, firm with the players without being overbearing, explained his decisions clearly, gave a number of warnings but only one (yellow) card, and kept his sideline judges from going off the rails.

One parent pointed out that even when the center ref made a call he disagreed with, he had no inclination to argue with the guy. Even the coaches, by their demeanor throughout the rather intense contest, didn’t seem to have an appetite for arguing.

Well played, sir.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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