Commentary | Rotating title games throws off balance

February 3, 2012 

Manatee and Pinellas counties were two of the first to shake up the prep postseason.

They did away with the notion of weeklong district tournaments being played at one site, eliminating the days of athletic directors turning the lights on, assigning a staff to run a concession stand and coordinating an officiating crew long after their own team had been eliminated.

So these are the days of satellite sites -- in other words, tournaments where the higher seeds get to host, where how you fared in the regular season actually plays somewhat of a role in dictating your playoff fate.

There is, however, one small wrinkle: The rotation of the district final.

Regardless of the seeding, officials in some of the districts have decided Manatee County hosts the championship game one year, Pinellas County the next and so on, unless both of the finalists hail from the same county

That’s the reason Southeast, the No. 1 seed in the Class 5A-District 12 girls basketball tournament, has to travel to No. 2 St. Petersburg Lakewood tonight.

And that’s the reason St. Petersburg Lakewood, a No. 1 seed itself, had to travel to Lakewood Ranch to win the Class 4A-District 10 championship last February.

I am all for playoff games being played at host sites, especially because it amps up the regular season and makes everyone’s district games that much more meaningful.

It also cuts down on unnecessary travel.

Just ask Out-of-Door Academy and Saint Stephen’s boys soccer teams, who met for the district championship one year in the Fort Myers area.

The rotating final? That needs to go.

If you’re going to base your tournament on who played better during the regular season, then do it all the way.

Don’t stop at the championship game, which for some teams, is the biggest one of the season. It sounds fair on the surface -- if Southeast, for instance, is the second seed next year and Lakewood is the top seed and the two meet in the finals again, the game will be played in Bradenton.

But it goes against the grain of the idea. If you’re the top seed, if you did everything you had to do and beat everyone you had to beat, then the championship game should be in your building.

You’ve earned it.

The Florida High School Athletic Association employs some randomness when it comes to the regional playoffs -- from the second round on, the site of each game depends on who’s on the top and bottom of a bracket, unless it’s a game between a district champion and a runner-up, in which case the champ always hosts.

That makes a little more sense. When it comes to the region playoffs, you’re dealing with teams who played different schedules and typically didn’t meet during the regular season. Basing home field or home court simply on overall record wouldn’t be fair.

It’s different at the district level, where everyone plays each other, everyone has a chance to beat each other, and everyone controls its slot in the postseason tournament. That’s how it is during the first few rounds, and that’s how it should be when it comes to crowning a champion.

John Lembo, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 748-7040, ext. 2097.

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