Welcome to the rankings era.
Where a No. 1 is no longer the same as any other No. 1. Where being No. 1 doesn’t mean you’ll play No. 2 in a loser-out game in the first round of the playoffs.
This was a step in the right direction for the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. The WIAA this week will release its first basketball rankings on its website and will update them daily throughout the regular season.
Once the regular season finishes, the qualifying 16 schools in each classification will then be seeded into their state tournaments based off the WIAA’s rankings.
“I’m guessing it’s going to create a lot of interest,” said Sumner School District athletic director Tim Thomsen, who was a co-chair of the WIAA’s committee that proposed the rankings concept and is a member of the WIAA’s executive board.
“What we hope is that is also creates a lot of buzz for high school basketball.”
That doesn’t mean the WIAA is out of the woods.
There are some weird wrinkles in the rankings format. One is that it needlessly damages the integrity of district tournaments because its Ratings Percentage Index formula halts at the end of the regular season. It won’t factor in district postseason games.
Here’s a hypothetical:
Say Enumclaw does what it did last year in its district tournament. Just like last year, schools have to qualify for state by earning one of the allocations in the district tournament. The only difference this year will be that teams will then be seeded into state based on their rank.
So Enumclaw entered the district tournament as the fifth and final seed from the 3A SPSL with a 10-10 record last year. Then it got hot, beating Columbia River, Auburn Riverside and Peninsula to reach the district title game before losing to Auburn Mountainview.
But that wouldn’t change Enumclaw’s RPI if that were to happen this year. If it entered the district tournament as the No. 30 seed, it would still be the No. 30 seed (though it would have qualified for state).
Even if a school were to run through the state’s top teams — say Nathan Hale, Garfield and Rainier Beach — in the district playoffs and win its district title, it would still be ranked below those teams in the state seeding.
So why not include RPI for postseason games?
“Down the road, hopefully we will,” Thomsen said. “We just didn’t want to jump to conclusions and put in something that wasn’t well studied and had a lot of input sought. So as we roll this thing out, we know this will probably look much different next year.
“But we wanted to take the time to roll it out in a simple form.”
In the meantime, it makes the district-placing games meaningless.
So meaningless, that the 4A SPSL coaches met in their league meeting to consider whether they should even play those games — which would include the district title.
They will, but only because schools would sit for two weeks from the district quarterfinals to the regional round of the state tournament without playing a game. But Sumner coach Jake Jackson said the room was split about 60-40.
“We were like, ‘Man, we don’t want our kids having to wait that long to play our next game,’ ” Jackson said. “We still want to play that game, even if it doesn’t have value, per se. We want to continue our momentum, work out our offenses, defenses and personnel and you still want to stay in basketball shape.
“But then there were other guys who say, ‘Why would I want to play if I risk a guy getting hurt?’ And I wouldn’t want to be showing our full game plan or strategy for the next opponent.”
What, then, does a district title mean if it’s played between two schools only trying to get their bench guys minutes before state? Or between two schools who’d rather save their top players from enduring season-ending ankle injuries?
“You would hope that the tournament is never set up in a way that people would want to do something like that,” Steilacoom coach Gary Wusterbarth said. “But with it this way, that’s obviously a factor that some would consider, I’m sure.
“If you can rest guys and not get them injured, that’s obviously to your advantage.”
Lincoln coach Aubrey Shelton said district titles are important, regardless of what it means entering the state tournament.
But a third-place game?
“To win a district championship is meaningful. There’s only a few of those,” Shelton said. “That’s important and significant.
“If we lose in the (district) semifinal and are going to the third/fourth game and it has no point for your seeding, then what’s the point?”
The WIAA cites district inequity as the reason for the change to the RPI system. So Federal Way might play four district playoff games, Cascade of Everett plays three and Gonzaga Prep plays two.
“The better teams you play and the higher number of those better teams you play, the higher your RPI is going to be,” Thomsen said. “Now, when you’re in the district tournament, you’re going against a lot of better teams.”
The WIAA will track scores for its RPI rankings via MaxPreps. Thomsen said the WIAA is in the third year of a three-year deal with the high school sports website.
But the other factor in RPI this year is out-of-state opponents. For this year — no matter if the school is from California, Missouri or Rhode Island — they are considered a .500 team.
A win over the Cleveland Cavaliers would be weighed the same as a win against last year’s Enumclaw team.
And you’d think the WIAA would be in favor of rolling out its final rankings like an NCAA selection Sunday. The Arizona Interscholastic Association does that, and it gets more clicks on its website than anything else it publishes, one of its officials told The News Tribune in May.
But this is still an improved format compared to last year.
No more one-loss Auburn Mountainview boys playing eventual state-champion Rainier Beach in a regional game. Or No. 1 Zillah playing No. 2 Lynden Christian in a regional game only to win and play No. 3 King’s in the state quarterfinal. Or unbeaten No. 1 Central Valley girls against unbeaten No. 2 Moses Lake in the 4A quarterfinals.
“This is the first step in the right direction,” Jackson said. “Is this the final solution? No. Will it be the same criteria for next season? Probably not. But we, as coaches, appreciate that the WIAA sees that what happened last year is not how the postseason should go.”
Thomsen echoed that.
“As you talk to other states, Oregon, for example, told us that every year they tweak it and get a little better,” Thomsen said. “We know it’s a process. We wanted to start with something simple and easy to understand. We know we’re going to be ultimately changing some of this.”
At a glance: WIAA basketball rankings and format
Here’s what you need to know about the WIAA’s sweeping changes to high school boys and girls basketball this year, including the rankings and the new state tournament format.
The rankings will be updated daily on the WIAA’s website when they first publish this week. They are based off of a Ratings Percentage Index formula:
▪ 25 percent weight for win-loss percentage.
▪ 50 percent weight for opponent win-loss percentage.
▪ 25 percent weight for the opponents’ opponents win-loss percentage.
Importance: Of the 16 schools that qualify for the state tournament, which has to be through the district tournament, those schools will be seeded into the regional round of the state tournament based on their ranking. If the Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 29, 33 and 35 ranked teams qualify for state through their district tournaments, then the No. 1-ranked team is seeded No. 1, the No. 12-ranked team is seeded No. 7 the No. 21-ranked team is seeded No. 13 and the No. 35-ranked team is seeded No. 16.
Twelve schools in each classification will reach the double-court tournament sites (the Tacoma Dome for Class 4A and 3A, the Yakima SunDome for 2A and 1A and Spokane Arena for 2B and 1B) for the state quarterfinals. Last year, eight schools made it through. In the regional round, the 16 qualifying schools will play at neutral locations around the state.
▪ The top eight ranked teams will play for a bye into the state semifinals. The losers still advance to the state quarterfinals.
▪ The Nos. 9-16 ranked teams play a loser-out game to advance to the state quarterfinals. So there’s a big difference between being the eighth-ranked and the ninth-ranked team.
TJ Cotterill: firstname.lastname@example.org