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MAYER: Sweet 16 rule will have positive impact on Class A

When the Sioux Falls Christian boys basketball team cut down the nets as state champions at the Class A state tournament, it marked the end of an era for Class A state basketball tournaments.

When the Sioux Falls Christian boys basketball team cut down the nets as state champions at the Class A state tournament, it marked the end of an era for Class A state basketball tournaments.

The 2015-16 season marked the last year that both boys and girls basketball teams in Class A will qualify for state by simply winning one of the eight region titles.

Unlike Class AA and Class B, the 55-team Class A will use what's been called a "Sweet 16" formula for state qualification. Teams will earn seed points for no more than 20 regular season games and play in the region tournament as normal until there are only two teams left in each region. At that point, the 16 remaining teams will be reseeded 1-16 and setup matchups that will be played at neutral sites, taking into consideration geography.

The adaptation was first proposed by Mount Vernon Athletic Director Eric Denning and moved through the South Dakota High School Activities Association rather smoothly, allowing it to be used for the 2016-17 season.

Changes like this will set up a more competitive state tournament, while keeping the region tournament and regular season an important part of qualifying for state.

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Had the "Sweet 16" formula been in place this year, the teams in the Class A state tournaments may have looked much different. Using this year's region championship game qualifiers and regular-season seed points, some interesting matchups would have been created for state tournament play-in games for boys.

In the Mitchell-area, Parkston, the runners-up in Region 5A, would have been the No. 16 seed and would drawn top-seeded Sioux Falls Christian. Winner, the upstart victors of Region 7A, would have been seeded No. 14 and played No. 3 Clark/Willow Lake, which was the top-seed in Region 2A. Region 5A champion Mount Vernon/Plankinton would have been seeded No. 10 and would have played No. 7 Little Wound, while Chamberlain, seeded No. 9, would face have faced No. 8 Vermillion.

All of these "play-in" games will be played at neutral sites, trying to keep travel between the two schools at a minimum. Mitchell, Pierre, Sioux Falls are example sites that have been proposed by the SDHSAA and multiple games could be played at one site on the same night, potentially creating an electric evening of basketball to precede the state tournament.

This new formula will ultimately create a much more exciting state tournament, as regions with multiple strong teams will now have a chance to make the tournament. Based off the 1-16 seedings from this year in Class A both the No. 2 seed and No. 3 seed boys teams (Dell Rapids and Clark/Willow Lake) and girls (Sioux Valley and Mount Vernon/Plankinton) failed to make the state tournament because they didn't win the region.

It also puts more merit on the regular season, as teams will be rewarded for scheduling and winning challenging regular season games. With the previous region championship formula, teams knew no matter how well the regular season went, the same opponents stood ahead of them for a state tournament berth.

The old region formula has been used for a long time, but finding a way to get the best teams into the state tournament should remain the highest priority. The stodgy eight-region formula wasn't accomplishing that.

Evidence for the shortfalls of the old state qualifying formula has been proven in state tournament scores. At both Class A boys and girls state tournaments, the seven winners' bracket games-four first-round, two semifinal and one championship-provided one game decided by less than five points in both the boys and girls state tournament.

In comparison, five boys region championship games were separated by five points or less. This new formula will provide a platform for closer games to be played in the state tournament.

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It is possible parts of the state will be left out of the state tournament in this new method and proponents of regional balance have valid arguments against the "Sweet 16." There's going to be some long bus rides on a Tuesday night for some teams to qualify for the state tournament. However, the beauty in the new system is that each region will get two teams one win away from the state tournament.

The SDHSAA and athletic directors around the state should be applauded for finding ways to provide a stronger state tournament. The impact of this new formula will hit next March and it probably won't be long after when every class uses a similar system.

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