MIDVALE — A new seeding system and all-comers state tournaments are reshaping postseason play for Utah’s prep sports with another major announcement coming Wednesday afternoon.
In the 2019-2020 basketball season, boys and girls in all six classifications will play combined tournaments at the same site, on the same dates. While smaller classifications have been doing that for years, next year the state’s largest schools — 6A and 5A — will compete in a combined tournament that ends on a university campus with the top eight girls teams and top eight boys teams competing for state titles.
“It’s yet another positive thing that the RPI allows us to do,” said UHSAA assistant director Jon Oglesby. “As we were making these changes, we were discussing different ways to configure the tournaments, and it allowed us to consider some different things. It allowed us to make other changes that are positive.”
Under the new system, the final eight girls and boys teams from each classification will advance to a university site. The earlier playoff games will take place at higher-seeded home sites.
“This gives more teams an opportunity to compete for the chance to go to (the university site),” Oglesby said. “Having those games at home sites the week before, it allows schools to build a fan base through hosting the home playoff games.”
The 6A and 5A girls teams have always started on Presidents Day at Salt Lake Community College. For the last decade, girls coaches and players have questioned why they don’t have the opportunity to play in a university arena like their male counterparts. The girls tournaments for the largest classifications have been at Salt Lake Community College for about two decades.
“What this does is opens up SLCC for some of our smaller classifications,” Oglesby said. “They need a good northern site, and this is a benefit for us to have another venue that’s well-proven.”
There were critics of the plan who saw reducing the number of teams that travel to a state tournament site as detriment, but most members of the association’s executive committee felt the shift was positive for both genders. That sentiment was echoed by the coaches contacted by the Deseret News after the change was announced.
"I really like them in some ways, and then, I'm kind of sad in others," said Farmington girls basketball coach Van Price. "I like that the boys and girls are on the same footing, same venue, and we'll be able to watch both tournaments, but I think I'll really miss the venue. (SLCC) was kind of fun and unique, and we brought in big crowds. We've been there so long, it will be kind of a different scene not being there."
Price has won a state title at SLCC and that adds to his sentimentality for the site. But he recently switched coaching assignments, and said sometimes it's good to do something different.
"Change is always good," he said. "And I think this is going to be a good thing. It will be hard playing at home sites because you'll lose some of that state tournament atmosphere, but this is a good opportunity for the girls, and hopefully you can win so you can make it to the eight teams that go to the (university arena)."
Olympus boys basketball coach Matt Barnes had a similar assessment, acknowledging there were mixed feelings among coaches.
"I think it's good for the girls," Barnes said. "It gives a chance to showcase the girls a little bit more. ... The big issue this year was scheduling because Thanksgiving was so late in November. It was a tight preseason for the girls. ... Moving it back will be great for the girls."
Barnes said he wasn't sure where the push for the change originated, as he hadn't heard a groundswell of support for change. While the new system favors the higher seeded teams, he said the state has made changes in the past, and it's always a bit of a mixed bag.
"Having 16 teams in a college arena is great," he said. "It's been that way as long as I've been around as a player and a coach. It's kind of your reward for a good season to play at the college venue. But a handful of years ago, they did away with consolation, and some were happy, some were sad. Some still miss it."
The schedule puts the classifications on alternating days, something Barnes said could benefit teams who make significant runs.
"That's definitely beneficial to have a day to rest and to prepare," Barnes said. "Any time you change things that have been the same for years, there is always going to be a little bit of frustration."7 comments on this story
Oglesby said he was part of the Big Sky Conference’s move to combine its tournaments, and he said there are a long list of positives.
“When they moved the Big Sky Tournament to a neutral site and combined the men’s and women’s tournaments, he said, “one of the coolest things was seeing the men’s program sitting in the front row supporting the women’s programs. That was a huge topic of conversation internally.”
The change was announced by the UHSAA Wednesday, and all the changes created by the new RPI system are now accounted for in the recently approved 2019-2020 calendar (www.uhsaa.org).