The South Dakota High School Activities Association has made numerous changes to the prep volleyball playoff process, but one more should be added to the list: abolishing region tournaments.
It is a nice thought to give each team in Class A and B a hypothetical shot at a state championship, but in reality, not all teams have a chance to win. This season, no team seeded lower than No. 3 advanced to the SoDak 16, and all 16 regional No. 1 seeds advanced to that round.
Instead, both classes should do away with region tournaments and field a tournament of 32 teams based on regular-season seed points. The first round is a win-and-advance format and then the tournament proceeds as usual in the SoDak 16.
While region tournaments are a good premise, there is a significant imbalance overall in each class. There are annually regions with more than two teams that have the talent to advance to the state tournament with the correct draw and others with a No. 2 seed that has double-digit losses.
Twelve of the SoDak 16 matches this year were decided in three sets, with 17 of 36 sets in those matches won by double figures. Meanwhile, 67 of 105 matches in region tournaments were three-set affairs, while 104 sets were won by 10 points or more.
In Class A, Region 5 had four teams that placed in the top-16 with overall seed points, while St. Thomas More had the sixth-most points and failed to reach the SoDak 16 after falling to eventual No. 6 seed Rapid City Christian in the Region 8A tournament. Meanwhile, Region 2B received two SoDak 16 berths despite have one team with a winning record.
A 32-team seeded field is likely to create more competitive matches, particularly later in the tournament, while still giving each team a crack at advancing to the state tournament. Class A saw three double-digit seeds advance in the SoDak 16, while No. 11 Bridgewater-Emery advanced in Class B and No. 15 Avon gave No. 2 Chester Area a five-set scare.
Some may point to the added cost of travel if a No. 32 team played at the top-seeded team in the first round, but the road team was already paying for a minimum of two games of transportation in the current region tournament format.
This is only the fourth year that South Dakota has employed the SoDak 16 format in some way -- and that change was hard-fought but eventually welcomed. Expanding the statewide nature of the playoffs would continue to reward strong regions and teams with quality seasons.
Judgement should wait one more year on Class 11AA football
It’s hard to talk playoff formats without discussing the Class 11AA football.
The class already felt the ire of many prep football fans because all eight teams made the field, but a significant gap between the top-two teams increased frustrations and a dominant season by eventual state champion Pierre made the season feel lopsided.
That’s understandable, but let’s give it another chance.
Small divisions are not new to 11AA, but even rematches in the playoffs have produced intriguing results. Since the classes split in 2013, nine 11AA teams won playoff games against a team that won the regular season matchup, including three consecutive state finals from 2015-2017.
Of course, larger divisions have a greater chance to produce more quality teams that lead to close games, but it is not guaranteed. With twice as many teams in each class, 11A and 11B playoff games -- starting in the quarterfinals -- have been won by a margin of more than 25 points per game on average since 2013.
This season was an outlier for 11AA and if schools such as Mitchell, Yankton and Huron can close the gap from the middle tier to the top, playoffs should become more compelling next year.