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The Tourney seeding system: Is it flawed?

By David La Vaque and Loren Nelson , 03/04/16, 11:00AM CST

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Fans from all corners have issues with this year's Class 2A pairings

David La Vaque has covered all but one state hockey tournament game since 2009 and has worked as a Star Tribune high school sports reporter since 2004. His favorite tournament experiences include cheering for alma mater St. Paul Johnson in 1991 and staying for most of the Apple Valley/Duluth East marathon semifinal game in 1996. Loren Nelson has covered every state tournament since 2009 as the national media editor for Sport Ngin. He attended many, many other Tourney games as a high schooler from the far northern reaches of Minnesota making the annual pilgrimage south to the old St. Paul Civic Center in the 1980s.


The state tournament seeding system, first introduced in 2007, has come under fire this year from fans in multiple corners of the state.
 
Some Stillwater fans were incredulous the Ponies’ didn’t get the No. 1 seed given they had the best record (26-1-1) of any team in the tournament.
 
Outraged fans from the northern reaches have voiced their displeasure about Bemidji and Grand Rapids meeting in a quarterfinal game.
 
Loren’s take:
 
Chill out. A seeding system is much, much better than any of the alternatives – predetermined pairings based on section assignments or, even worse, a random draw. 
 
I remember the days, as a high school kid transfixed by the tourney, wondering why two of the state’s clearly superior teams had to meet in the quarterfinals (Burnsville vs. Bemidji in 1985 comes to mind). Didn’t make sense. It took 20-plus years from those glorious mid-1980 years, but the MSHSL finally did the right thing by introducing seeding.
 
Imagine, for example, Lakeville North and Edina meeting in the quarterfinals of last year’s tournament. Or Stillwater and Eden Prairie meeting in this year’s quarters. That scenario played out regularly back in the glory days of the one-class tournament.
 
It could be argued that having the eight tournament coaches seed the field introduces all sorts of opportunity for manipulation of the system. But, in general, they have done a good job of handicapping the field (all four of the top Class 2A seeds advanced this year).
 
And what’s the alternative? Using computer rankings? Uh, no. Setting up an NCAA-style selection committee? Seems like overkill. 
 
Let’s leave the system as it is. And remember to relax.

David’s take:

Tournament seeding is the best way to go. But as we know, the best way typically means the least-flawed way.

Let’s review the process.

Saturday morning saw each head coach cast electronic votes for the other seven qualifying teams. The highest and lowest votes were thrown out and the top five seeds were selected. The remaining three seeds were chosen by blind draw. No opportunity for politicking.

Notwithstanding frustration with the results, the process is sound.

The flaw with seeding overall, or at least the unintended consequence, is Thursday often lacks much intrigue. Seeding funnels much of the real interest to Friday night’s Class 2A doubleheader. (Sorry, Class 1A, but no one talks about seeding at your level. Shaming the metro-area private schools takes all the bandwidth).

That said, seeding is fine by me. Short of changing the whole section playoff model and re-writing the Minnesota State High School League’s philosophy that favors geographic representation rather than competitive balance, seeding the tournament creates the best possible finish.

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