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Sweet 16 formats receive first approval from SDHSAA board

PIERRE -- A postseason change for the largest and smallest classes in South Dakota high school basketball and volleyball appears to be on the way. The South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors approved proposals to add th...

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PIERRE - A postseason change for the largest and smallest classes in South Dakota high school basketball and volleyball appears to be on the way.

The South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors approved proposals to add the Sweet 16 formats to Class AA and Class B basketball and volleyball Tuesday during its regular meeting at T.F. Riggs High School in Pierre.

The board voted 6-3 in favor of the proposal in Class AA, while voting 8-1 for it in Class B. Both proposals were approved on first reading, and without any changes, the plans would be approved in June and go in effect for the 2017-18 school year.

In both basketball discussions, the conversation centered on geography, with nearly all of the support for the plans coming from East River schools, while West River schools were against the proposed plans. Mitchell High School did not support the change in the Class AA format.

“It shouldn’t matter where you live to decide whether or not you have a fair and equal chance to make the state tournament,” said Brandon Valley Activities Director Randy Marso, adding that the current format is inequitable to have teams potentially meet twice in the postseason, once at the district playoffs and again at the state tournament.

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Spearfish Activities Director Jordan Bauer said basketball is much different than soccer or football, which are SDHSAA sports that are single-elimination playoffs and don’t include every eligible team. He argued that other states bordering South Dakota all have regional representation at the state tournaments.

The AA conversation ended up being wide-ranging, spanning to scheduling, seed points and conferences. There were also concerns about increased travel throughout the season and the loss of revenue in the postseason, with no district games and the overall number of games decreasing from 22 to 8.

Yankton Boys Basketball Coach Chris Haynes said the Sweet 16 format should make more sense in Class AA than any other division, because there’s only 18 teams. He said the current format for a five-team district - starting with a single-elimination play-in game, followed by double-elimination districts and single-elimination regions - is confusing.

“Getting to the state tournament is huge for growing a program,” Haynes said. “We just ask that we have the same opportunities as the other 17 teams in Class A.”

Board members Moe Ruesink (Sioux Valley), Roger Bordeaux (Tiospa Zina), Jim Aisenbrey (Baltic), Brian Maher (Sioux Falls), Bud Postma (Madison) and Sandy Klatt (Brandon Valley) voted in favor of the AA proposal. Steve Morford (Spearfish), Jason Uttermark (Aberdeen Central) and David Planteen (Langford Area) were against the plan.

In the Class B vote, Morford was the lone member to vote against the proposal.

In Class B, a number of area administrators supported the plan to go to the Sweet 16. Avon Superintendent and Athletic Director Tom Culver said he used to be in the camp that wasn’t in favor of the change. He said he talked to about 30 people -- ranging from fans to officials to coaches -- and each of them said “something needs to be done. It’s time for a change.”

“I understand the opinions and the feedback depends on where we live,” Culver said. “The majority of the basketball fans would like to see a change in the way we qualify.”

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Canistota Superintendent Larry Nebelsick said the format would give teams a chance to qualify for the state tournament against teams that aren’t from their area.

“It always seems like you’re in the wrong districts or the wrong region … it’s a chance to get away from the teams we play all the time,” he said. “If we don’t win and don’t get (to state), that’s fine. We at least want the chance to get there.”

Class A went to the format Sweet 16 this past season, where the final two teams in each region qualified for the Sweet 16 and then reseeded 1-through-16. Class B would adopt a similar format, if approved. In Class B, districts will be eliminated and instead teams would go straight to region play. Each region would play until two teams are left and then reseed 1-through-16 using SDHSAA seeding formula.

In Class AA, the top 16 schools based on the regular season seed points would qualify to a Sweet 16 contest. Schools outside the top 16 would not qualify for postseason play. The top eight seeds would host the one contest, with the winner advancing to state and the loser is eliminated.

The South Dakota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association supported both measures, with the Class AA proposal barely passing 10-8, and the Class B schools voted 46-29 to support the proposal in March.

Related Topics: PIERREBASKETBALL
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 mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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