HERE’S A QUESTION being asked by just about everyone with an interest in NHIAA spring sports: Will the 2021 postseason tournaments be seeded randomly, as was done for basketball, soccer and many other NHIAA sports, or will on-field performance determine where teams are seeded?
Let’s hope for the latter.
The top of the NHIAA food chain seems to prefer random seeding. Many others would like to seed teams based on regular-season results. It should be noted that some sports, like football and hockey, used wins and losses during the regular season to seed teams, so if you’re not in favor of random seeding, all hope is not lost. It will likely come down to whether or not the NHIAA committee for each spring sport wants to convince — and can convince — the NHIAA higher ups that seeding teams based on regular-season results is what’s best.
The argument here is that teams in each spring sport should be seeded based on winning percentage. This takes into account that all teams in a division may not play the same number of games because of COVID-19.
Seeding teams via winning percentage requires no extra work by the NHIAA. In fact, it’s less work than a random draw. Once the regular season is complete, most of the pieces will be in place. Head-to-head results can be used to break ties, and if teams didn’t meet, a coin flip can be the tiebreaker.
With “regional schedules,” it’s acknowledged that some teams will play a far tougher schedule than others this spring. Many teams may even play the majority of their games against non-division opponents, so seeding teams by winning percentage isn’t perfect. Still, under the unique circumstances we’re dealing with because of COVID-19, it’s much better than a random draw, which isn’t fair at all. And let’s not forget that many teams don’t play balanced schedules in a normal season anyway.
Seeding teams based on winning percentage — or any other result-based criteria — puts meaning into the regular season. There’s little to no meaning in the regular season when teams are seeded randomly. The boys and girls basketball regular season was little more than one scrimmage after another.
Using winning percentage to seed teams would also preserve some tournament integrity, much of which is lost with a random draw. We’re fortunate to be playing a regular season, so why not use it in some fashion to seed tournament teams?
And what are the benefits of random seeding anyway? Random seeding is literally about the luck of the draw.
Some have said any tournament with a random draw is better than no tournament at all. That’s definitely true, but fortunately we’re not limited to those options. Anything you do should be done to the best of your ability — isn’t that among the things we’re trying to teach these high school students?
We should strive to produce a season as close to “normal” as we can. Certainly the student-athletes deserve it.
Baseball coaches have been particularly vocal about this subject. When you factor in pitching limitations — an element that’s not present in other high school sports — a random draw becomes even more unfair in that sport.
Let’s say a team goes unbeaten during the regular season and is seeded fifth or sixth in its region with a random draw. Does that team use its ace in a play-in game? It may have to since the two best teams in a region may be the lowest seeds (see the Exeter and Winnacunnet boys basketball teams). A solid team with its ace available could be lying in wait. Again, we should attempt to put integrity into the tournament brackets.
Here’s another benefit of seeding teams based on regular-season results: You’re more likely to get competitive games between teams involved in play-in games, since the strongest teams in a region wouldn’t be involved in those contests. Why deprive teams of a competitive contest and a realistic chance to advance in the postseason based on a number that’s pulled out of a hat?
A random draw? No thank you. Even with uneven schedules, we can do better.