High School Sports

Embrace rankings? WIAA could adopt state rankings formula by 2016-17 school year, executive says

A WIAA committee is designing a proposal that would replace the current draw criteria to the state basketball tournament and implement a ranking formula – a monumental change.
A WIAA committee is designing a proposal that would replace the current draw criteria to the state basketball tournament and implement a ranking formula – a monumental change. Thinkstock photo

Gig Harbor football coach Aaron Chantler says he believes his unbeaten football team should not have had to travel to Skyline in the first round of the 4A state tournament.

“We were league champions and we had to travel for a Week 11 playoff game against Skyline,” Chantler said. “That doesn’t seem to make much sense.”

Auburn Mountainview’s boys basketball coach, Thomas Ostrander, says he believes his team should not have had to play Rainier Beach in the first round of the 3A state tournament.

He compared the matchup to two No. 1 seeds playing in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. AMV ended its season at 23-2, a game short of reaching the Tacoma Dome for the first time in school history, and Beach went on to win the 3A state title.

The examples are numerous.

There was unbeaten Central Valley playing unbeaten Moses Lake in the state quarterfinals of the 4A state girls basketball tournament; two-loss Lynden Christian vs. one-loss Zillah in the regional round of the 1A boys basketball tournament. And this was all in this school year.

Mammoth matchups seemingly destined for the later rounds of the state tournament all too frequently have been played much earlier. And there are plenty of case studies in baseball, soccer, softball and volleyball, too.

“The state tournament should not be about equal representation,” Puyallup boys basketball coach Scott Campbell said. “It should be a tournament to have the best 16 teams compete for the championship, regardless of where those teams are located.”

Campbell was among the 79 percent of 102 South Sound coaches who voted in The News Tribune’s survey — conducted April 5-13 — that they’d prefer a committee or ranking system over the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s current draw criteria.

And that number seemed low to WIAA executive board member Tim Thomsen.

“I would have thought more like 90 percent from what I’ve heard,” said Thomsen, the Sumner School District athletic director.

Thomsen is co-chairing a committee that is designing a proposal that would replace the current draw criteria to the state basketball tournament and implement a ranking formula — something he said would be a monumental change.

“So much discussion comes about ‘How did those two teams get on the same side of the bracket? What is the WIAA doing?’ Of course, the WIAA isn’t doing anything to it. It’s a draw,” he said. “But the draw can come out unfair to some degree. So let’s do it fair,” Thomsen said.

“We certainly haven’t settled on anything yet other than there is a great deal of interest in it. We’ve received a lot of input and the idea is that it would be a fair thing.”

They’ve studied about 15 states and their seeding criterion, he said — most closely looking at Oregon (which uses a mixture of ratings percentage index and the Colley Rank) and New Jersey, which uses a points system.

The state’s football coaches association might be farther along than the basketball committee, which Thomsen said has studied about 15 states and their seeding methods. Football coaches created a proposal in April to implement Oregon’s ranking system, though they would want the power to make slight tweaks to the matchups to prevent extreme travel.

Cindy Adsit, a WIAA assistant executive director, said the organization’s current draw criteria for all sports certainly isn’t perfect.

“But I don’t think there is a perfect system,” Adsit said. “Because there are upsets that occur all of the time. That’s why they play. That’s why the games are played.”


It was a No. 5 seed from one district against a No. 1 seed from the other.

The five seed happened to be Rainier Beach, a team that was starting two Pac-12 bound players. And the No. 1 seed was AMV, which had never before won its district tournament.

Auburn Mountainview lost, 75-61.

Meanwhile, Stanwood would play Enumclaw in that same Rogers High School gymnasium a day later for a trip to the Tacoma Dome. AMV faced those teams a combined four times this season, winning each by an average of 16 points per game.

Oh, the fifth and sixth seeds from the combined West Central/Southwest tournament reached the Tacoma Dome. But the top four seeds, including AMV, didn’t.

Lincoln coach Aubrey Shelton had predicted as much after Lincoln lost to Peninsula in the bidistrict quarterfinals, saying that it might actually work out better for his team.

“It’s totally objective,” Adsit said of the WIAA’s draw criteria. “It’s just based on how they finish in the district tournament and the draws are conducted months before you are into the postseason. We don’t know who is going to be in that position.

“You would think that if you just look at numbers, a No. 1 team is going to prefer to play a No. 5 over a No. 3 from some other district.”

But coaches expressed that the problem is the criteria doesn’t weigh a team’s regular season success.

Beach lost in the first round of the SeaKing District tournament, but won out to clinch a No. 5.

Adsit said that because it was the final seed from its district it could have even been drawn to play the No. 1 seed from its own district — which would have been Garfield.

“We don’t look at previous state tournament success, how many years they’ve been in the state tournament, how many years they have won the state tournament, who they played that season, how they did against those teams — they were a five seed,” Adsit said.

“Everybody is always fine with the process until the names go onto the line,” Adsit said. “And then it’s ‘Well, we never intended for those two schools to meet each other.’ 

But this isn’t the first time a rankings proposal has come up.

Adsit said football coaches came close at an offseason meeting about four years ago, and that it is discussed at the state basketball tournament every year.

“We actually hear about it in every sport,” she said. “There’s just never been enough support by the coaches to put one into place.”

“The most common reference is made to Oregon — Oregon has got everything figured out. But Oregon is set up so vastly different than this state is. I’ve told a couple of coaches — be careful what you ask for here. Oregon is very top-down driven. Our rule here is just to implement and help schools understand what they have adopted.”


Thomsen said his committee has looked into Arizona’s seeding process, which uses a rankings formula adopted from MaxPreps.

Oregon ranks teams throughout the season and a school’s rank determines its position in the state tournament, but in Arizona a team still has to qualify for state through a regional tournament. So an eighth-ranked team might not make the 16-team tournament, and a 25th-ranked team could.

Some states that use computer rankings: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico and Oregon.

Others that use a points system: Iowa, Maine, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.

Others that use committees: Massachusetts, Ohio and Oklahoma

Brian Bolitho, the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s director of business development, has analyzed the results of Arizona’s change — switching from a points system to the current one in 2012 — and said he’s been amazed by the accuracy — and the clicks to the AIA’s website.

“We really needed a formula,” Bolitho said. “The biggest thing has been the accuracy. And the traffic has been really good for our website. It’s one of the biggest traffic drivers we have. But just from the standpoint of how the rankings are utilized, it’s been really accurate putting the right teams where they belong.”

His analysis showed No. 1 seeds reach the state quarterfinals 95.3 percent of the time, and the finals 61.3 percent of the time — and it progressively shrinks for each seed.

No. 2 seeds reach the finals 39.1 percent of the time. No. 3 reaches 36.6 percent. No. 4 is 19.9 percent, five and six are 10.1 percent, seven is 6.7 percent and eight is 4.7.

Arizona uses these rankings for every sport and live streams a bracket show for each where it releases the final rankings.

“We will have schools sitting around in their cafeteria or wherever their team rooms are and they watch it live to see where they finished in the rankings,” Bolitho said.

“Now, obviously, you are going to get questions from people wherever they are ranked,” Bolitho said. “In the very beginning we got that a lot because it was new. But now that we are five years into it, those questions have subsided a lot. It’s more when you get later in the season and you have teams on the bubble or you have an eight vs. nine seed who is going to potentially host.”

Thomsen and Adsit said this is the longest period that a rankings discussion has lasted in Washington, and the closest it has come to becoming reality.

The biggest challenge, Thomsen said, will be determining the final product – how the rankings are compiled – but he sees it as a criteria that would eventually impact all WIAA sports.

At the current pace a proposal would be presented in June and implemented in August to start in the 2016-17 school year, he said.

“I feel we are moving down that road,” Thomsen said. “ Something could be adopted by August. I wouldn’t want to go too much past August because it would put too much on staff to get it working. But I feel we are moving down that road.

“I think we have to keep our fingers crossed and hopefully it will work.”

Adsit was less convinced.

“We don’t have a perfect system,” she said. “Is it time for a change? I don’t know. We’re always up for change. … I don’t anticipate that. Not to say that it won’t. I have been proven wrong many times. I’m not a gambler for those reasons.

“I know there are people saying if we go to a seeding process it’s going to solve everything. It won’t,” she said. “Maybe it will solve one thing, but then it will create something else. Any system — it doesn’t matter what it is — on paper is great. Implementation of it is a different thing.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677, @tjcotterill

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