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Zach's Editorial: MHSAA basketball district format still needs work

Three games in a week for many top seeds
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Posted at 1:39 PM, Feb 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-24 13:39:42-05

(FOX 17) — Let's be clear: the MHSAA knew changes had to be made to the basketball district format. Several district openers were becoming "district finals" if you will, pairing the two best teams in the first game of the postseason.

Now, that's changed. Thanks to the MPR points system that the MHSAA has implemented, the top two teams of each district are placed on opposite sides of the bracket. The points system takes into count the team's record and opponent's winning percentage, which helps determine which two teams will be opposite to potentially meet in Friday's finals.

This hopefully will help create more exciting district finals and judging by this week's release of brackets, many basketball fans are already buzzing about potential matchups on March 13.

Yet, problems remain. The new system is better than the lack of a system prior to this, but changes are still needed, and many have said this, both coaches and fans alike.

In fact, one text I received after the bracket reveal from an area basketball coach of a struggling program this season said: "The MHSAA failed with the district seeding. We don't deserve a bye. They're punishing the top two teams by making them play three games a week."

And that's where the problem lies. The MHSAA hasn't changed anything except for the top two teams being on opposite sides of the bracket.

This week, in the weekly five minute show 'This Week in High School Sports', host John Johnson said that a group of people on social media disagreed on the district format.

"[They] thought seeding should include everything from byes to home court advantages and catered limousine service for being a top seed," Johnson said jokingly.

In reality, there are many informed people that disagree on today's format, including coaches and administrators. However, it's more than just the MHSAA's responsibility to change this. Johnson continues to talk about his experience 20 years ago in a room of over 100 basketball coaches and administrators when seeding was a topic.

"You had people wanting to separate two top teams in a district to a plan where all teams in each class were seeded regionally and state wide from the get go," Johnson added, which clearly involves unrealistic travel. The disagreement among schools is something that won't make a change easy.

The MHSAA opted to make some changes this season without changing anything too drastic.

"After using the 18-19 school year to vent the issue further, we've ended up just that - seeding just one and two and keeping the random element of draw for the remaining teams," Johnson said, "it wasn't done with smoke or mirrors or in a room of good ole boys."

Johnson continued regarding this season's format and the ability to change in the future.

"What we have now is a first step, a step the majority can live with, a single step with room to take another step down the road if school's can agree, for example, giving seeded teams byes when available for now the association got it done and got it done right."

And I'm in the boat of hoping those changes continue to happen in the future, because there are many other issues than just the byes and top seeds playing three games in a week.

For instance, in an exciting District 12 in Division 1 hosted by Middleville Thornapple-Kellogg, top-seed Wyoming and two-seed East Grand Rapids play on Monday night. The problem? Ottawa Hills has the bye in the district.

With all due respect to Ottawa Hills and many other programs, the byes in the districts need to go to the top seed(s). Instead, many top seeds are punished by having to play three games in a week.

Andrew gets it. The MPR is already established, it creates very little extra work for the MHSAA just to seed the entire districts and could even be realistic to reseed when regionals roll around.

The new format of reseeding the districts would benefit the top two seeds, giving at least the one-seed an opening night bye, depending on how many teams are in their district.

There are other problems with the districts including some being loaded with many teams of the same conference. For instance, District 9 hosted by Cedar Springs features six OK White teams which becomes a conference tournament, only with Rockford being added. Certainly, this is a shame for one of the better basketball conferences in West Michigan with Northview, Forest Hills Central and Forest Hills Northern all needing to beat up on each other to get a district crown.

Aside from the OK White district, five of the six teams in District 10 come from the OK Black with Muskegon and Grand Rapids Union squaring off for a third time this season in the district opener. There has to be an easier way to break up conferences in district play. Also in that district, Kenowa Hills and Mona Shores get the first round byes. With respect to the Knights and Sailors, Muskegon and either Grand Haven or Reeths-Puffer deserve the opening round byes. Instead, the Big Reds, Bucs and Rockets will need to play on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in order to advance.

Travel, of course, is an issue, especially in the first round but it's not too difficult to switch up a few teams to take away the 'conference tournament' mantra that we're seeing in many districts.

The MHSAA has come a long way, but hopefully that continues. The dialogue the association let us in on via last week's 'This Week in High School Sports' is definitely promising that more (and better) changes could happen in the future. The MPR points system has made it much more enjoyable and meaningful in the regular season, which is nice. Big wins mean much more now with the top two seeds staying away from each other until the district finals, but more can be done.

With the current MPR system already being in place, it shouldn't be unrealistic to think the MHSAA can seed the entire district and do the right thing to give the top seed(s) an opening round bye rather than three games in a week to win a district. No, top seeds don't need limousine service, just reward them a bit by allowing them an opening night off.

You can find the full MHSAA district brackets here. I'm curious to hear your thoughts! Questions? Comments? Concerns? Tweet to me: @FOX17Zach

**This is an editorial and does not reflect the views of FOX 17**