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Goodbye Super Tuesday; what's next for high school hoops?

Still just four large schools to qualify for state

June 28, 2011

Talk to area prep basketball coaches about the demise of the one-year-old failed Super Tuesday concept and they see the glass as half-full.

But they're not ready to throw confetti and strike up the band just yet.

Because if you speak to WIAA officials about the same topic, they see the glass as about as full as it's going to get when it comes to large school, Division 1 participation in the state tournament.

Their numbers tell them it can't be any other way for the time being, especially if the one-year-old, five-division format stays in place.

And mind you, it will stay in place.

So after last week's vote by the WIAA Board of Control to do away with the Super Tuesday layer of the state playoffs, things will go back to normal for the time being. Sort of.

Under the new format, Division 1, large-school prep teams will go back to having their WIAA sectional championships won on Saturday nights mean something instead of having to worry about an extra qualifying game just three days later and just two days before the start of the state tournament.

"You just need more time to prepare for state," said Steve Showalter of the Germantown boys.

But, as it was when the five-division format was conceived and approved more than a year ago, there will still only be four large schools going to Madison as opposed to the eight that had been in place for close to 40 years.

"As I've told some other people, we live in very dynamic times and we need to try different things to solve certain problems," said outgoing Board of Control member Jim Smasal of Winneconne, who earlier in his career was the girls basketball coach at Homestead. "We need to experiment, and, in all experiments, some things work and others don't.

"With the Super Tuesday idea all we were trying to do was try to showcase Division 1 and nothing else. Obviously, people didn't like it (the board of control's vote to do away with it was unanimous), but we're not going to dig in our heels about it.

"All we can say is too bad."

But because the five-division format will stay in place and the WIAA wants the state tournament to remain a three-day event at the Kohl Center in Madison, one thing will remain the same as last year: Division 1 will still only get four teams at state in both the girls and boys events.

Part of it is math. Smasal pointed to the fact that because the new five-division format shifted some former Division 1 teams into Division 2, there are fewer schools in Division 1.

Looking at the 600-student enrollment bottom end cutoff for Division 2 proves his point. According to the most recent data, of about 430 traditionally-run high schools statewide, there are only 159 institutions that sit above that enrollment line and they have to be split into two divisions for the playoffs.

Looking at it from that point of view, you can understand the WIAA's point of keeping it at four schools in D1. That and the fact that only six games can be played each day at the Kohl Center for the state tournament, makes it difficult to go back to the traditional eight-school format.

Smasal and the rest of the WIAA were reluctant to go to another venue (i.e. the UW Fieldhouse) or add another day to the program to accommodate the additional teams and games that going back to eight schools would call for.

"If the priority is the Kohl Center or a similar facility, then it (going back to eight schools) is hard to do," said Smasal.

But you talk to coaches like Showalter, Corey Wolf of the state champion Nicolet girls or newly appointed Franklin girls coach Tony Kathrens, all of whom had teams involved in the Super Tuesday format this past season, and they still say there has to be a way to get eight Division 1 teams back to the state tournament.

"I remember going way back to when I was a kid, watching the four (Division 1) quarterfinal games (on Thursday, the first day of the tournament)," said Showalter. "They were the best games, because you had all this interest and all that talent coming in from these different large communities from around the state.

"It created a really dynamic atmosphere and drew the crowds."

This past year, Thursday was dominated by the small school Division 5 and 4 semifinals and reports from various quarters said the Kohl Center was not quite as energetic as it had been on Thursdays of past years.

"It was so quiet," said one coach in attendance.

The note that Showalter made about the talent coming to the Kohl Center is true. A lot of basketball aficionados come to Madison just to see play great kids from large urban venues that they don't normally get to view.

And though you can make arguments that the competition is just as intense on the lower enrollment brackets, everyone knows that the talent level is just not as deep there.

"The talent level deserves eight teams," said Kathrens. "Still, (getting rid of Super Tuesday) is a step in the right direction."

And this four-team Division 1 format separates basketball from other team format sports that still qualify eight Division 1 schools for state and then four in the other divisions. These include girls volleyball, girls softball, spring baseball, soccer and tennis.

But as Smasal notes, things will likely change.

"Will it be in the best interest of those sports to stay with the 8-4-4-4 (state) format?" he said. "I don't know, but you've got to be able to adjust on a year-to-year basis."

"…Right now, the five-division plan (in basketball) is in the best interest of the state of Wisconsin and if it winds up working, why should we change it? But if it doesn't, by all means something should be done.

"You need to be able to think outside the box. Eight schools is an issue that will be continually addressed, but how about (theoretically) qualifying six for Division 1 and giving the top two seeds a bye? Are people ready for a seeded state tournament? I don't know, but it is another idea and I'm sure more are in the pipeline."

Wolf added regarding the Super Tuesday change, "It's another different idea. It'll be interesting to see what they (the WIAA) do now. A lot of coaches liked the old format (of eight schools). When it has been so favorable as it was in the past, it can't help but be a disappointment when it does change."

As it has been said, old habits die hard.

Goodbye Super Tuesday

Another change for D1 basketball

WHAT'S NEXT: Under this new format, Division 1 WIAA sectionals will now essentially double in size as they are reduced in number from eight to four and regional champions will play up to three games in a week. Regionals will be held on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday and then sectionals the following Thursday and Saturday. This schedule is very similar to the other four divisions.

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