How much does the mileage matter? How about being the higher seed?

Those are the questions that surround the South Dakota High School Activities Association’s plans to formalize criteria to pick SoDak 16 sites for boys and girls basketball. The SDHSAA’s Board of Directors met last week and approved a plan to continue have Class A and Class B basketball games be played at neutral sites, but to direct SDHSAA staff to select sites that are in closer proximity to the higher seed.

It is not expected to be a major change, but SDHSAA staff was looking for guidance for site determinations that were never formalized previously. Until now, the only edict was neutral.

The 2019-20 postseason marked the third in which all of the state’s basketball and volleyball teams played under the SoDak 16 postseason banner. (Class A was the guinea pig in 2016-17, so those schools have played four seasons with the format.)

As reported last week in The Daily Republic, it has become more difficult for the SDHSAA to schedule games in a way that accommodates both teams equally. SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand noted that the higher seeded team should have an advantage if there’s a tie to be broken.

“There should be a little bit of bias,” Krogstrand said during the April 21 meeting. “If you have a Sioux Falls team and Rapid City team, maybe that game is in Mitchell if Sioux Falls is the higher seed. It’s not going to be in someone’s backyard or home gym, but if you’re the No. 1 seed overall, you probably should have the advantage of traveling 40 or 50 miles as opposed to 200 just to get to the middle.”

But given that The Daily Republic has collected data on the topic for past stories and has tracked how the SoDak 16 has played out both on and off the court, I sought to answer the two questions posed at the start of the story, especially through the viewpoint of teams gaining an advantage with where the game was played.

  • There have been 168 games or matches played in Class A or B in four years of the SoDak 16 format in boys and girls basketball and volleyball. (Volleyball wasn’t specifically mentioned in the revised neutral site plan, but it seems likely it will follow suit and I included it in the tally anyway.)

  • Higher-seeded teams are winning a clear majority of the games, 76.2 percent (128 of 168 contests). The closer team, by mileage, has won 61.3 percent of its games (103 of 168).

  • The top-3 seeded teams in all three sports have a record of 67-5 in SoDak 16 games. The high seeds and the strongest teams are generally winning these games, which is what should generally happen when a 1-seed faces a No. 16 seed, or a 3-seed takes on No. 14. And there have been a few upsets, and that’s a lot of fun, too.

  • Regarding the mileage, I also calculated the instances where the lower seeded team had a mileage advantage of 25 miles or more. That has happened 35 times in the last four years in Class A and B games, but the higher seeded team is 26-9 in those contests. The seeds of those winning teams included five 9-seeds, and one each among 10, 11, 12, and 13 seeds.

  • The lower seed, closer team advantage happened just once in 2019-20, with ninth-seeded Canistota defeating eighth-seeded Arlington in the Class B boys basketball SoDak 16 by a 59-58 score in a game at Sioux Falls Roosevelt. The Hawks were 39 miles closer to their site than their opponent in that game. That game has been a general outlier in Class B boys basketball, particularly. In that division, 13 of the 24 games played under this format have been won by the closer team, while the high seed has won 20 of those 24 games.

  • Another key question is how many times has the higher-seeded team had a major advantage in distance traveled under the current SoDak 16 format? I looked at how many times the lower-seeded team has traveled twice as far or more to play the better seeded team. (This excluded games where both teams were within 25 miles of the host site.) There have been 32 instances of that, so about 1 in 5 games. The top-seeded teams have won 29 of those 32 games.

  • Coincidentally, some of the biggest discrepancies have involved games at the Corn Palace. In 2017, second-seeded Madison traveled 67 miles to Mitchell for a Class A boys basketball state-qualifying game, while Hot Springs made the 330-mile one-way trip. During the 2017 volleyball season, fifth-seeded Hanson played 15 miles from home in Mitchell, while Faulkton Area traveled 139 miles to the Palace. Just 40 miles from its high school to Mitchell, Corsica-Stickney’s girls basketball team has twice played at the Corn Palace in 2019 and 2020’s SoDak 16 round as the higher-seeded team and played opponents from at least 120 miles away both times.

Based on what the SDHSAA board has approved, some of those discrepancies will occur more frequently. But Krogstrand is right, allowing an advantage for the top-seeded teams in the state-qualifying round should be acceptable. It rewards the regular-season play of the top teams and the policy also keeps these games off a team’s home floor, which is a fair thing to do late in the postseason with smaller schools getting to play in bigger gyms and arenas.

The SDHSAA’s staff has had scores of instances where they have placed these games equidistant between the two schools playing, something that should be applauded because it’s a challenge to find the perfect place to play with three or four days notice. It’s likely that will continue when possible.

But if there’s an advantage to be had, the higher seed should be the recipient. And history shows those higher seeds are cashing in with victories.