Column: Basketball playoff system needs re-working

Like the rest of Northern Nevada, you probably missed some great basketball last week.

Even worse, you may have missed the chance to watch the hometown team in action.

We speak, of course, of the NIAA state playoffs, the ultimate reward for teams that fared well in the regional playoffs. Eight teams left Reno's Lawlor Events Center with a championship in tow, an honor they absolutely deserved.

Championship games are fun and all, but it seems as if the early-round games took some of the fun out of this tourney.

To wit:

-- Carson High School's girls took second place at zone, and their reward was a 9 a.m. opener on Wednesday at Lawlor.

-- Galena's boys followed with a 10:35 a.m. game, and then Galena's girls got the next tipoff by about noon.

-- Yerington's girls, playing in the 3A state semifinal, were subjected to a 9 a.m. game on Friday after playing an evening game the night before.

Those are just examples that feature the teams we cover. Lawlor was a non-stop basketball mecca from Wednesday to Sunday, with games running from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

One problem though: Aren't people supposed to visit a mecca?

One local news station estimated with glee that 15,000 people would visit Lawlor to watch a game. Is that really such a big total for a state tournament?

The problems are probably wide-ranging, given that teams are coming from all over the state. You likely didn't see a whole lot of Cimarron-Memorial homers at the game, as the trip from Las Vegas is costly for the average fan.

But still, six Northern 4A teams won on the first day of competition, so you'd expect attendance to be higher than 15,000 for that class alone, let alone the 3As, 2As and 1As of this world.

The attendance issue cuts to the root of the problem, which is scheduling.

If you have a full-time job, you probably work days. A 9 a.m. start makes it tough for a lot of supporters to get the day off. The tourney brackets were released to the media on Sunday, which means most of you found out about the schedule on Monday. That makes shifting your work schedule even tougher.

An educated guess says this not only hurts attendance by Joe Fan, but also from some parents whose kids are actually playing.

This says nothing for the students themselves. We all know that students are a big part of attendance, but at 9 a.m., most of them are in class, or at least should be.

I've heard some of the schools in the area allowed parents to sign students out of class to attend the game, given it was a "school function."

Is that really a good idea? Let's see, study the Civil War or go to a basketball game? Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, but we set a bad precedent when we start putting extracurricular activities before learning.

From a media perspective, those early games are great, so don't get the idea that we're going to write the NIAA a letter anytime soon and address it "Sniveling on Bath Street." The earlier the games, the earlier the stories are in - and thus the sooner we get out of here at night.

I did feel for my colleagues at the Tahoe Daily Tribune, though, who face a 10:30 p.m. deadline and had to cover South Tahoe's boys game at 8:45 p.m. on Wednesday.

More to the point, I felt for the readers in South Tahoe, who probably didn't get the in-depth coverage they wanted because of the deadlines. State tournaments are about the kids, but dissemination of the information is all about the media.

The best solution is that the kids play night games Monday through Friday, with all eight championship games played at Lawlor on Saturday.

One argument against change is that the NIAA wants to give players a chance to play in the "Big House" at Lawlor. Aside from the obvious hypocrisy of such thinking (remember that while the 4A schools play all games at Lawlor, the smaller divisions had to play opening-round games at Wooster and Reno high schools), expanding the schedule would still allow for plenty of time at Lawlor, maybe even more.

There are plenty of high schools in Reno and Sparks alone that could host opening-round games. With some deft scheduling, we could probably get all the semifinal games in at Lawlor too.

Each venue could host a 6 p.m. and a 7:30 p.m. game, just like it was during the regular season with girls and boys games. The night starting times would allow more fans, parents and students to make the games. Isn't that part of the excitement of high school basketball?

Not every team would get a chance to play in Lawlor, but before you decide that's unfair, consider the plight of the 2A schools, which were playing semifinal games at local high schools. There's no reason to penalize a kid just because he or she happens to live in a small town.

If we want to be fair, we ought to be fair to all. If not, then there's no good argument against rescheduling the tournament to increase fan support.

Jeremy Littau is the Nevada Appeal sports editor.


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