Traxler: SoDak 16 format should stay with neutral sites

"South Dakota has a good format with the SoDak 16, one that provides access to teams from across the state and plays the games in venues worthy of hosting playoff games late in the season."

The Ethan girls basketball team celebrates at the end of a Class B SoDak 16 girls state-qualifier game against Corsica-Stickney on Thursday, March 2, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — For the sixth time, South Dakota high school basketball playoffs used the SoDak 16 format this year.

It’s beginning to build a history and has quickly become a focal part of the season. The SoDak 16 brings so much excitement, fans forecast potential matchups and debate the possible upsets. All that buzz before a single game is tipped off.

In short, the SoDak 16 has been great. The format has improved the competition before the state tournament. A lot of the venues have energy that fans hope to see late in the season when teams are nearing state.

But changes are on the table. This week, the athletic directors of South Dakota will weigh in on plans brought forward by sport advisory groups about moving SoDak 16 matchups to the high seeds’ home court for basketball and volleyball.

The rationale varies but settles on three arguments:


  • It’s difficult to find neutral sites on short notice; 
  • It’s difficult to find officials; 
  • South Dakota already plays at home sites for the football playoffs, so why not other sports? 

“It is getting increasingly difficult to find sites for the SoDak contest to keep everyone happy,” the rationale reads for the change.
Well, it is high school sports in South Dakota. People always find reasons to grumble.

Ethan and Potter County met in a Class A SoDak 16 boys basketball game on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in Redfield
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

On points No. 1 and No. 2, the SDHSAA staff certainly doesn’t have it easy. They’re asked to line up a host site in about 12 hours when matchups have been finalized. Officials have spoken at SDHSAA Board of Directors meetings about having a tentative plan, and an upset forces a rebuild from scratch. We know the difficulties involved with finding officials to work the games, and if there’s a one-off game in a remote part of the state, it can be hard to find three referees to travel on short notice.

On the third item, yes, South Dakota does play at home sites for the football playoffs, sending teams across the state for all rounds until the championship games in Vermillion. That’s the way it’s always been done for high school football and right now, there’s not a realistic alternative.

But we have decades of history of playing basketball playoff games at neutral sites. It is intrinsically part of how the postseason has played out for a very long time. The same standard is appropriate in volleyball, where the later rounds of region tournaments have been played on neutral floors. The games get more important and the contests move into bigger venues, allowing more fans to attend. It should feel like a true event, not just another game in a crowded gym.

Data helps drive solid decisions, so here are some facts that matter. In recent years, it’s been a stated goal for the SDHSAA to select a site between both schools but was closer to the higher-seeded team, if possible. In 2022-23, across boys and girls basketball and volleyball in Class A and Class B — a total of 48 games — that was achieved 45 times. (The largest difference in mileage that favored a lower-seeded team was Wessington Springs being 18 miles closer to Huron than Howard for their Class B girls basketball game.)

In those 48 games, the higher seeded team had a major travel advantage. For example, 21 times the higher seeded only had to travel half as far as its opponent. An example was when De Smet traveled 35 miles down the road to play Crazy Horse (driving 229 miles) in Huron in the Class B boys basketball SoDak 16. But it accomplished the SDHSAA goal: neutral but friendly to the higher-seeded team.

Additionally, the higher-seed team has been significantly more successful. In those 48 games this past season in boys and girls basketball and volleyball, the favorite won 43 times.

If my team is one of the last 16 teams playing in the playoffs, it shouldn’t have to go to someone else’s home court to get to the state tournament. If my team is a lower-seeded underdog, the road to get there is hard enough already. In region playoff games played on an opponents’ home floor in 2022-23, the lower seeded team won 11% of the time across Class A and Class B, combining boys and girls games.


There is already enough arguing about seed points and whether they’re being manipulated by certain teams in a given season. That will only intensify if home court is on the line for the SoDak 16 state-qualifying round.

South Dakota has a good format with the SoDak 16, one that provides access to teams from across the state and plays the games in venues worthy of hosting playoff games late in the season. A change to playing those games in home gyms in Class A and B basketball and volleyball would be a mistake.

Opinion by Marcus Traxler
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at
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