On February 8th, I went down to Redwood high school to cover the Marin County Athletic League basketball championships. On the girls side, Marin Catholic completed a 16 point second half comeback to down number 1 seed Redwood 41-40. The Wildcats scored the winning points on a pair of free throws by Kaitlyn Jigalin with 2.6 seconds left. On the boys side, Branson completed a comeback of their own, trailing by 10 at the half, beating Redwood 41-40 behind a Peyton Mullarkey three pointer to give the Bulls the MCAL championship.
Redwood High was overflowing, with huge crowds and standing room only for both games. There is a reason that it was packed and the Vine Valley Athletic League’s championship was not.
The MCAL plays for a banner and an automatic NCS bid in their championship games, while the NBL and VVAL give that honor to the regular season champion.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the postseason tournaments. It gives teams that weren’t league champions a chance to increase their strength of schedule and their NCS seeding. For the league champs, they necessarily don’t need to win it to make the NCS playoffs, therefore, sometimes you see those teams not play nearly as hard, saving their energy for the NCS playoffs.
If you make the postseason tournament champion the automatic qualifier to the NCS, it brings so much more interest to the postseason tournament. Doing this makes the league champion in the regular season have to play hard and still win a few games to receive that automatic bid. If you have a non league champion win the tournament, they will receive that automatic bid, while the league champion will still most likely be in, receiving an at large bid. Doing this in the NBL-Redwood would have rewarded the Maria Carrillo boys basketball team with a playoff bid. They would not have gotten a great seed, but it is still an honor to be selected to the postseason. Another non league champion won the playoff tournament, and that was the Casa Grande girls basketball team in the VVAL. While Casa Grande received the home game being a higher seed, Vintage also got a home game, but only because they were a regular season champion.
In college basketball, the winner of the conference tournament goes to the NCAA tournament. Why can’t we do this in high school? It gives every team a small glimmer of hope that if they make the league playoffs, and they don’t qualify for NCS, they can qualify by winning their league tournament. Plus, this can make for very exciting nights of basketball.
A side note, leagues should also have multiple sites in place for league championships. For example, if the VVAL Tournament Championship was a combination of Petaluma, Sonoma Valley, or Casa Grande, why would their players, coaches and fans have to drive all the way to American Canyon for that game? Plus, I believe no team should play a championship game in their home gym. Both the Redwood High boys and girls, and the American Canyon boys played their league championship games in their own gyms. Thus, the leagues should have multiple sites in place and determine the site of the game after the semi final round when the teams are known.
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When I was covering things nobody complained about the crowd sizes for the NBL Championship night and they weren’t playing for a “”automatic berth”.
The high school playoffs have to many teams anyway. Watering them down even more means more one sided games