High School Sports

Class 4A sub-state basketball system often frustrates teams

McPherson's Ben Pyle (24) steals the ball from Carroll's Patrick Carney in January. McPherson is 19-1 but would face a sub-state finals opponent with no more than five losses.
McPherson's Ben Pyle (24) steals the ball from Carroll's Patrick Carney in January. McPherson is 19-1 but would face a sub-state finals opponent with no more than five losses. The Wichita Eagle

The McPherson boys basketball team is in one of the Kansas’ most difficult sub-states, regardless of classification. In addition to the Bullpups (19-1) in their four-team sub-state at Ulysses are Buhler (15-5) and Hays (16-4).

But McPherson coach Kurt Kinnamon said it’s not the toughest sub-state. The sub-state at Basehor-Linwood (18-2) also has Bishop Miege (17-3). One team emerges from each to the state tournament.

“That’s the worst one of all,” Kinnamon said. “One of the top four teams in the state isn’t going to make it. At Ulysses, two of the top 10 teams aren’t going to make it.

“When I look at the other sub-states, how do I feel about it? I wish there was a different way.”

Class 4A split into two divisions for some team sports in 2014-15. And while each division has 32 schools, just like 6A and 5A, the postseason isn’t the same.

All sub-states are arranged by geography, but in 6A and 5A, four eight-team sub-states are seeded and split into two pods with the higher seed hosting each game. One team advances to the state tournament out of each pod.

In 4A-I and 4A-II, there are eight four-team sub-states determined by geography. All games are played at the host site, which rotates each season.

At the boys sub-state in Towanda, Augusta (10-10) meets Andale (17-3) and Andover Central (16-4) plays Circle (12-8). Yet the Wellington sub-state 50 miles away doesn’t have a team with a winning record.

“Looking at it and being a part of it, you can’t help but feel that there could be a better way of doing things,” Andale boys coach Jeff Buchanan said.

Fran Martin, a Kansas State High School Activities Association assistant director, understands the frustration of coaches.

“I see it. But with the current format that they asked for (by splitting into two divisions), they knew what they were getting,” she said. “They knew they were reducing from eight to four-team sub-states and could very well face the challenge of, ‘I’ll always see those teams,’ because we do it geographically.”

Class 4A’s system before the split into two divisions was the same as the way 3A and 2A currently work. There were eight eight-team sub-states with the first round played at the higher seed. The next games were played at the host site.

You’d like to see something change. I wish that KSHSAA would listen and see that.

Andale boys coach Jeff Buchanan

“I thought they were on the right track,” Buchanan said. “And then 4A split, I thought they took a step back on how they’re organizing it.”

One fix would be by mirroring the 6A and 5A plan, which would increase the chance that the best teams advance.

An example would be to put the eight teams in the Basehor-Linwood and Tonganoxie sub-states together. They’re close geographically, and while it would still be a tough sub-state — Atchison (14-6) and Eudora (14-6) are in the Tonganoxie sub-state — at least there’s a chance the best teams make it through.

“It seems like a simple fix,” Basehor-Linwood coach Mike McBride said. “… We knew going into the year that us and Miege would be good. Then the sub-state pairings come out and all of a sudden we’re playing each other in the same sub-state. Why put them both in the same one?”

Miege (17-3) and Basehor-Linwood (18-2) are ranked in the top four of 4A-I by the coaches association. Only one will go to state.

One of the issues, Martin said, is officials.

She spent six hours on Saturday assigning officials to 6A and 5A sub-states. It’s more difficult to assign to those two classes because the postseason isn’t seeded until the Saturday following the regular season.

So finding officials for far western Kansas games, for example, is more difficult than finding officials for the larger cities. It would be even more difficult to find officials if the host site was unknown for 4A-I and 4A-II because the schools are much more spread out.

“If the No. 1 seed ends up in Hugoton and the officials I assign are from Wichita, they’ve got to get off work on a Thursday or a Friday to work those games,” she said.

The consistent complaint, though, is that the system doesn’t get the eight best teams.

“And that’s the frustrating thing,” McBride said. “We put in a lot of time and sweat.”

Buchanan added: “I don’t know if there’s one perfect way. There’s good and bad about everything. But I do think there could be better communication and organization than what’s going on.… You’d like to see something change. I wish that KSHSAA would listen and see that.”

Joanna Chadwick: 316-268-6270, @joannachadwick

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