The Seeding Disease

May 1, 2018

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.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.