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Paul Valencia column: WIAA caught in a 'State' of labels

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

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They tried to call it state.

But you know that whole thing about lipstick on a pig.

So the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association listened to those complaints and re-branded those games. Now, they are called regionals, not state.

Guess what? The WIAA is still receiving complaints.

"That first year, we tried to promote it as a state tournament," said Mike Colbrese, excecutive director of the WIAA. "We were told, 'Quit telling us it's something it isn't.' "

Today, officially, the WIAA only recognizes the teams that reach the elite eight as state tournament teams.

Which means that the Prairie girls basketball streak came to an end last week when the team lost in the 3A regional. The Falcons had gone to state for 15 consecutive seasons.

That's what we reported.

We also noted that until 2012, reaching the sweet 16 was considered going to state.

To save money, the WIAA went to a regional format for its state basketball tournaments in 2011. Changes were then made for 2012. One of those changes was the regional games would be considered just that, regional. Not state.

Which brings us to 2013. This past weekend was the Lost Weekend of Basketball for Clark County. The Union girls, Prairie girls, and Woodland girls lost Friday. The Columbia River boys, Hockinson boys, and La Center boys lost Saturday. (Congrats to Class 1B Columbia Adventist of Battle Ground for being the only survivor from the area.)

All of these teams would have been considered state participants until last year.

Colbrese said the format will not change next year, but he hopes the WIAA does a better job of working with the regional sites to make them special. Some locales this weekend made their teams feel like it was a big deal. Others, though, made it feel like just another game in the middle of a long season.

At one site, there were no rosters on Friday for the girls. The next night, there were rosters for the boys, but they were old. One had wrong numbers, and another team had the wrong names. Not exactly a special experience for the fans.

However, after years of every team going to one place, such as the Tacoma Dome for the 4A and 3A tournaments, it is difficult to convince everyone that going to Mount Tahoma High School, for example, is just as cool for the athletes and the fans. Which is one reason why the WIAA stopped calling that round of games "state."

There have been other ideas thrown out there.

I like going with all 16 teams under one dome but having the first round be single elimination. Have the 3A tourneys begin on Tuesday, for example, then the 4As on Wednesday. By Thursday, all four tournaments are down to eight teams each for the double-elimination.

Before all this, the WIAA used the Tacoma Dome for a total of eight days over two weeks. Now, they use it three days in one week. The idea of going to single elimination for the first round under one roof would mean the Tacoma Dome is used five days in one week, still cheaper than in 2010.

However, Colbrese noted, there are flaws with that plan, too. Would people travel far to Tacoma for the possibility of just a one-and-done? Sure, fans do that now for regionals, but those regionals are Friday or Saturday games, not Tuesday morning or Wednesday afternoon games.

For every idea, there is a counter.

There is no easy solution. Other than, maybe, just going back to the way it was.

Even that is not so simple. Colbrese said that for some reason, basketball attendance was down 33 percent over the last 10 years of that traditional format. With fewer fans paying to go to the games, it was tough to justify spending the money on the Tacoma Dome, the Yakima Valley SunDome, and the Spokane Arena for all of those days.

For now, the WIAA just has to have thick skin.

The regional games were called state for one year, and people complained.

The regional games have been called regionals the past two seasons, and people are complaining.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valencia@columbian.com.

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