Last year’s Class 2A-District 12 boys soccer championship game came down to Saint Stephen’s and Out-of-Door Academy, schools separated by a handful of miles and a quick car ride.
So where did they end up playing? Naples, the tournament’s host site.
Understandably, a scant number of fans made the two-hour trip to see the Falcons win the title on a Ryley Delgado penalty kick early in the first overtime.
This year, things are a bit different. Most of the districts have decided to ditch the idea of a host tournament site, awarding home games based on seeding. Good idea. I hope it sticks.
Whatever the reason, it injected some fever into the regular season and made the playoff games a little more sensible.
Take Wednesday night’s Class 5A-District 10 girls soccer semifinal between Manatee and Gulf Coast. The game was played at Hawkins Stadium because the Hurricanes defeated the Sharks during the regular season, giving them the tournament’s second seed, as well as a key home game.
Did that play a hand in Manatee winning in double overtime? No idea. But it made sense that only one team and one set of fans had to travel instead of making both schools trek to Port Charlotte or Punta Gorda.
The season is already watered down by the fact that everyone makes the district playoffs, rendering the previous few months as little more than exhibition play. Now, there is a little more at stake during the regular season — teams want their first-round home game.
And a first- or second-place finish can net you two home games, including a championship game. Couple that with a few good bounces during the regional tournament, and a team can stay home all the way until hitting the road for the state final four.
It’s practical, too. Say, for example, Lakewood Ranch and Palmetto make it to the finals of the Class 4A-District 10 girls tournament. That game would be in Lakewood Ranch, because the Mustangs won the top seed, and this is their reward for an undefeated run through district play. Or if the Mustangs don’t get in, Palmetto, the second seed, would host, just as it should be.
Makes more sense than sending both Manatee County teams to St. Petersburg Dixie Hollins or Seminole Osceola.
Not every district is doing it this way, and that’s fine. If all parties involved are happy with one host school, keep it that way.
But to those other schools — keep this up. Keep rewarding teams for their regular-season accomplishments. Keep playing these games, the most important of the year, in front of fans who care.
Keep these tournaments on the move. And keep the players and fans closer to home.