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The Seeding Disease

I have yet to hear one satisfactory reason to advocate for seeding an all-comers, 740-team high school basketball tournament. But this I do know: Advocates of seeding are never satisfied.

Seeding high school basketball tournaments has become the rage since the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, still just a 68-team affair, became a billion dollar media business. Many people assume that what is used for this limited invitational college tournament is needed and appropriate for a high school tournament that involves 11 times as many teams.

The NCAA pours millions of dollars into the process of selecting and seeding its 68-team tournament, combining a variety of data-based measurements with the judgments and biases of human beings.

One of this year’s questionable selections to make the 68-team field was Syracuse . . . which sent our more highly touted and seeded Michigan State Spartans back home early in the tournament.

Meanwhile, low-seeded Loyola-Chicago upset four teams on its way to the Final Four, and became the favorite of fans nationwide. Which argues for upsets. Which argues for randomness.

Which argues against seeding. Why pick the No. 1 seeds of four regions and have all four glide to the Final Four? What fun would that be?

A local sports columnist who is an outspoken advocate for seeding our state’s high school basketball tournament actually wrote a published column advocating for “more Loyolas” in the NCAA tournament, and he explained how to make that happen. Which, of course, seeding is designed to not make happen, but instead, to grease the skids for top-seeded teams.

When the NCAA Final Four brackets for San Antonio resulted in two No. 1 seeds on one side, playing in one semifinal game (Kansas and Villanova), while the other side of the bracket had a semifinal with a No. 3 seed (Michigan) and a No. 11 seed (Loyola), there was a call for more finagling . . . for reseeding the semifinals so that the two No. 1 seeds wouldn’t have to play until the final game.

It was poetic justice to watch one No. 1 seed clobber the other No. 1 seed in a terrible semifinal mismatch.

The point is this: Seeding is flawed, and advocates of seeding are never satisfied. If we take a small step, they will want more steps. If we seed the top two teams of Districts, they will lobby for seeding all teams of the Districts. If we seed all teams of Districts, they will ask for seeding Regionals. And, if we seed the start of the tournament, they will want a do-over if it doesn’t work out right for the Finals.

Seeding is a distraction, and an addiction.

Posted in: Tournaments

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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 45 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for nine years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is chair of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation for 2018.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.