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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Blind draws need to be eliminated

G. Michael Graham

I, G. Michael Graham, have covered high school sports now for 15 years in five different states.

There are things in each state that make you scratch your head. But in Kentucky, the idea of blind draws for district tournaments in any sport ranks at the top of the list.

For years, the districts that comprised of Highlands, Newport Central Catholic, Newport, Dayton and Bellevue High Schools have done that in basketball, baseball, volleyball and softball and I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. In fact, in some cases, it’s been a travesty like this year. Blind draws need to be done away with and never even thought about again.

In other states like Tennessee, Texas and Alabama, the district teams played each other and received seeds in the district tournament. There were no questions asked about this.

The volleyball teams broke this trend in the fall. The five schools faced each other and received seeds in the tournament. NewCath took the top seed and Highlands took the second seed. Highlands ended up beating NewCath for the 36th District championship.

Both teams lost in the first round of the 9th Region Tournament. But the bottom line is they were the district’s two best teams and rightfully represented the 36th in the regional tournament.

The five schools voted 3-2 for seeds in the basketball tournament next year at the annual meeting Monday. The ones who voted for the seeds were Highlands, NewCath and Newport. But unfortunately, they’re a year too late at least on the girls’ side.

Both basketball teams at Highlands and NewCath drew each other to play in the semifinals at Highlands on Feb. 19. Then on the other side of the bracket, the Dayton and Bellevue teams face off Monday before the winners meet the Newport teams on Wednesday.

The Highlands and NewCath girls teams rank in the top five in the 9th Region and one will not even play in the region tournament. Just think, the likes of Nikki Kiernan and Alexus Mayes of NewCath or the Highlands Twin Towers of Jesse “Dirt” Daley and Leah Schaefer and teammates like Brianna Adler and company will not set foot on the Bank of Kentucky Center Floor to play in the regional tournament this year. It’s pathetic.

Highlands and NewCath manhandled Newport earlier in the season. They’ve not faced Dayton or Bellevue. Dayton, Bellevue and Newport have played schools their size for the most part in both boys and girls basketball.

This is not the first time that has happened. Back in 2010, the Highlands and NewCath girls met in the semifinals. Highlands had a nice 19-8 record and NewCath was 21-2. The Thoroughbreds won 55-47 after edging Highlands, 35-33 in the regular season. NewCath, led by Courtney Sandfoss, went on to win its second of four straight district championship under Ron Dawn. On the other hand, Highlands, led by seniors Katie Allen, Hope Cutter and Bekah Towles, did not get to advance to the regional tournament for the only time since Jaime Walz-Richey has been head coach. Highlands eliminated NewCath in 2008 in the first round of the tournament.

On the boys side, NewCath has demonstrated it is the best team in the 36th with a sparkling 23-2 mark while Highlands has struggled. The Thoroughbreds beat Newport twice and also handled Bellevue and Highlands. Highlands lost to NewCath and Newport but beat Bellevue handily in the second game of the season. Dayton is struggling at 2-16 so you’d have to assume that Newport and Highlands are the second and third seeds respectively if seeds were handed out.

The Highlands and Newport rematch could have gone either way. But again, we’ll never know because of the blind draw unless both advance to the title game.

For years, Dayton, Bellevue and Newport probably voted for the blind draw so that one of them could advance to the regional tournament every so often. They’ve had problems competing with Highlands and NewCath historically. The advantage to Highlands and NewCath is they don’t have to play those district opponents and can fill their schedules with more competitive games.

Granted, the Newport boys have been competitive in recent seasons. The Wildcats had a chance to tie the Thoroughbreds in the All “A” 9th Region title game with 10 seconds left but traveled and NewCath iced the game with free throws.

But this goes back to what guest columnist Will Chambers talked about a few weeks ago. That’s a state of mediocrity. Why only send one of two best teams to the region tournament?

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association is partly to blame for a lack of consistency in all sports when it comes to district seeding. The KHSAA requires all district opponents play each other in football then have playoff seeds. That’s not the case with the other sports.

My thoughts on this subject are simple. If you don’t want to be humiliated in the district tournaments, then drop out. Pendleton County has done this for the next two seasons in Class 4A, District 7 football. Better yet, you can get together with other schools and lobby the KHSAA for classes.

But blind draws need to be eliminated. I don’t like mediocrity and unfairness and I know others feel the same way. There is no way the two best teams in the district should have to face off to make the region tournament and there’s no way the best team in a five-team district should have to face the second or third-best teams to make region.

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