MIAA needs to correct its tournament-pairing process

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Wednesday, November, 07 By John Shimer
Staff writer

Throw out the current Massachusetts high school tournament structure, a system based solely on winning percentage for the way teams qualify for and are seeded in the state tournament.

The idea behind seeding teams is to reward the best teams with the easiest draw so that fans can see the best matchups at the end of each sectional.

The biggest flaw of the current winning percentage system is two-fold; teams that play more games generally are punished for a worse winning percentage, and when it comes to seeding, ties might as well be losses because they count against winning percentage.

Now, obviously in whatever format you choose to go with | whether it be the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association's current winning percentage or the NCAA's selection committee process weighing a multitude of factors | there will be upsets.

Only one team at the end of the day can be crowned champion, and the disappointment always feels the same when you lose. But ask any player or coach who has made a deep tourney run and he/she will tell you there is more satisfaction the farther you go.

Too often the best teams play each other too soon in the tournament, which is not fair for anyone.

Rarely do you see a game like we saw last November when No. 1 seed Newburyport and No. 2 seed St. Mary's faced off in the Division 3 North girls finals. The two teams were clearly the best in the North region, and everyone who attended the game that evening witnessed a classic overtime thriller.

The way the MIAA has structured the tournament, teams like Nazareth or Greater Lowell or Shawsheen are given a high seed for racking up the wins by playing cupcake schedules. Then they get bounced in the state tournament by a low seed in the first or second round.

This year's Division 3 North girls bracket was a perfect example where Greater Lowell essentially stole the No. 1 seed by going undefeated for the season in the Commonwealth | a conference made up primarily of tech schools that don't play good soccer. They got a bye in the first round because No. 16 seed Weston and No. 17 seed Tyngsboro had a play-in match.

Weston, a team that plays in the extremely difficult Dual County League with teams Acton-Boxboro, Lincoln-Sudbury, and Concord-Carlisle (not to mention the fact that the Bay State and Middlesex Leagues sandwich them), won both games and will play Ipswich in the quarterfinals tonight (6 p.m.).

MIAA representatives will tell you the best teams often end up winning, and there are plenty of exciting games throughout the tournament, to which both arguments are generally right.

They would also tell you that you can't rate conferences or teams' schedules based on regular-season opponents to format their tournament similarly to the way the NCAA does for March Madness because that would take too long and would be too subjective.

There in that statement, lies the lie. You can judge how high school teams play their schedule. The solution is fairly simple, and doesn't require spending hours upon hours in a selection committee room. The MIAA has actually simplified matters by breaking up schools into three divisions based on school size.

To determine the top teams in each division, the MIAA should instill a point-based-win-system structured around strength of schedule where the most points earn the top seeds.

The model would go as follows for each division:

  1. Each win over your own divisional opponent is worth three points and conversely each loss is worth negative points. Ties count as one point across the board.

  2. For each division you play up and win you earn an extra point. For example a D3 team could earn as many as five points for beating a D1 team.

For each division you play down you lose a point. For example a D2 team would only earn two points for beating a D3 opponent, and a D1 team would only earn one point in the same scenario.

  1. For each you division you play up and lose, your team would earn zero points. For example a D3 team could not be penalized for playing a D1 or D2 opponent.

However, for each division you play down and lose your team would earn an additional negative point. For example a D1 team would lose five points by losing to a D3 opponent, and a D2 team would lose four points in the same scenario.

  1. Teams with positive points at the end of the season advance to the state tournament, while teams in the negative do not.

  2. Teams would then be seeded based upon the total accumulation of points with the top seeds going to the teams with the most points. If two teams were tied, then a coin flip would be used to determine the higher seed.

Is this the perfect model? Probably not, but it would give incentive for teams to play tougher schedules, especially outside of their own conferences. In doing so, you would have a much better idea of which schools have the top teams in each division.

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