Guest commentary: Will 4A move to the divisional qualifying system?
Tom Smart, Deseret News
While growing up watching "Sesame Street," I remember a song and game, "One thing is not like the other." The challenge for the young child was to identify which one of the four boxes was different.
In the case of Utah prep wrestling, the 4A classification is the outlier. The other classifications have some sort of divisional qualifying system. Meanwhile, 4A still uses the region format.
Since most prep sports are familiar with regions, a quick explanation of the divisional qualifying system is in order.
Basically, it divides each classification into two divisions. From each division, eight qualifiers move on to the state tournament. The only exception among the classifications that use divisions is 1A, where four wrestlers advance to form an eight-wrestler bracket.
Though regions have been around since prep wrestling or prep anything existed, the idea of the divisional qualifying tournament has taken hold and is supported by the vast majority of wrestling coaches, even in the 4A ranks.
The genesis of the idea dates back to the late 1980s when Viewmont head coach Bart Thompson brought up the idea at the annual Utah Wrestling Coaches Association fall meeting. The coaches back then seemed puzzled by the idea and the concept was basically tabled for nearly two decades from serious thought, let alone application. Interestingly enough, Thompson is now an associate director with the UHSAA and will direct the state wrestling tournaments starting today.
But the concept was rejuvenated by the coaches, with Layton head coach John Fager leading the charge. Then a few years back it was the 4A classification that took the first leap, though the implementation of divisionals and keeping region tournaments made for a convoluted system that frustrated many. So as the adage goes, the baby was thrown out with the bath water and 4A went back to regions as the mode to qualify wrestlers for the state tournament.
However, during this time the other classifications moved forward, each dealing with some specific issues in their own way.
For example, 5A sees no need for region tournaments as the region champion is solely decided by dual meet competition. The 2A has a state dual tournament in early January in which every 2A school competes, thus making region tournaments obsolete in their view. And 3A has taken a peculiar path with two of the regions still having region tournaments a week before the divisional tournament while the other two forgo that and use the divisional standings to decide the region trophy.
Despite what format is used, the divisional qualifying system provides some great benefits to the competition.
First and foremost, it deals with the inequities that often exist between the quality of regions. By either combining two regions, as they do in 3A, or by splitting the teams based on a formula that takes into account the previous year's state performance, this combining brings forth the most deserving 16 best wrestlers. In 4A this year, many wrestlers that beat other wrestlers will not compete simply because they placed fifth or lower in a stronger region.
Further, the wrestlers will be seeded in a more uniform way for the state tournament. With regions, the two best wrestlers often meet in the semifinal round instead of the championship round. With divisionals, this problem is alleviated. If the two best wrestlers happen to be in the same division, they will be separated in the state bracket. Of course if they are from different divisions, the champions of each will be separated. But with four regions, the two best wrestlers might be placed on the same side of the bracket. Also, throughout the bracket, one will find better wrestlers meeting earlier in the tournament than if a divisional qualifier was used.