High school athletic association mulls the possibility of eliminating consolation games at state tournament sites

It’s too early yet to tell, but considerable changes may be coming to the state’s playoff procedures and state tournaments starting in the near PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHWEST SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY - Glencoe guard Kaylie Van Loo dribbles upcourt in a mostly empty Rose Garden during a consolation bracket game at the 2012 state basketball tournament.

Perhaps most notably, some of those changes would include the elimination of consolation and third-place games at large-school basketball and volleyball state tournaments, which would have some notable implications for area schools.

Currently on summer hiatus, the OSAA redistricting and state championship committees are in the midst of their months-long processes to make adjustments to classifications and state playoff procedures for the four-year time block that will begin in the fall of 2014. The state championship committee is made up primarily of athletic directors, coaches and other administrators from schools and school districts from throughout the state. Casey Waletich, the Hillsboro School District’s director of safety and operations, is a Class 4A/5A/6A at-large member and the chair of the committee.

Among other tasks, the OSAA has asked that the committee examine whether changes should be made to the basketball and volleyball tournaments for the upcoming four-year block.

The committee met for the third of eight sessions back on June 3 and an update was released on the OSAA website on June 10. Though much can still change by the time the committee meets for the final time in January and then offers its final recommendation to the OSAA, it has already at least been moving in a particular direction when it comes to the basketball and volleyball tournaments.

As of that June meeting, the committee’s consensus was to support eliminating consolation and third-place games in basketball at the Class 6A, 5A and 4A levels. The committee also favored gender-specific sites for Class 6A and 5A basketball — which would revert back to large-school tournament formats that ended with the 2009 season. Additionally, the committee supported eliminating consolation and third-place games across all levels of volleyball and staging state tournaments with three classifications each at two different sites rather than two classifications each at three different venues, as is the current format.

These changes might exert fairly negligible impacts on powerhouse programs in basketball and volleyball, such as Central Catholic, Jesuit and West Linn, which often advance deep into state tournaments and win frequent championships in these sports. But if the recent past is an indicator, the switches would greatly impact the experiences of schools like those in Hillsboro that advance squads to the eight-team state tournament fields far less often.

“We’re one of those schools that doesn’t make it very often, and so one and done doesn’t really do much for us,” Glencoe athletic director Scott Ellis said.

For example, if the posited new tournament format had been in place last school year, the Century volleyball squad would have been one-and-done in its Class 6A state tournament appearance. The same goes for the Glencoe girls basketball team that advanced to the Rose Garden in 2012. For these and other Hillsboro-area volleyball and basketball programs, in more recent tournament history, going deep has been the exception rather than the norm.

In 2010, Liberty’s volleyball team made the Class 5A final on its home court, falling in a five-set thriller to league rival Sherwood. Century played its way into the Class 5A boys basketball championship back in 2009, becoming the first Hillsboro program — boys or girls — to make it that far since Hilhi finished as the 2003 runner-up in the old four-classification system.

More recently — and more often than not — Hillsboro schools have gone two and out or at least lost in the quarterfinals before winning a consolation game. In fact, the year before their championship final run, the Jaguars boys lost both of their state tournament games. Glencoe’s boys hoops team last made the state tournament in Class 5A in 2010, also dropping two in a row. Hilhi’s boys and girls basketball squads most recently qualified for the tournament in 2007 and 2009, both at the 5A level. Both Spartans teams went winless, as did Glencoe’s girls in 2007.

State tournament success for Hillsboro schools in volleyball has been just as fleeting. A year-removed from their runner-up finish in 5A, the Falcons scored a sixth-place trophy in 2011. But both of those trophies were preceded by 0-2 appearances in 2008 and 2009. Besides Liberty’s appearances and the Jaguars’ bid last year, the only other Hillsboro-area school to make the tournament since the OSAA expanded to six classifications came in 2007, when Glencoe made the Class 5A field and lost twice in a row.

This is not to suggest that Hillsboro-area schools have not been competitive. Just reaching the tournament site is an accomplishment — placing a team in the top eight in its classification in a given year, and many of these teams’ defeats were narrow. If anything, the Hillsboro schools’ lack of victories upon reaching the tournament illustrates how challenging it is to advance further for the vast majority of schools.

And just because a team does not win at the tournament does not mean the experience is unrewarding.

“More than anything ... knowing if you qualify for the tournament that you’re guaranteed at least two more games with your team is always a great feeling, especially after usually playing kind of a one-and-done type deal the games leading up to it,” explained Scott Kellar, the longtime boys basketball coach at Century.

The Hillsboro schools’ recent tournament track record sheds light on the difficulties the OSAA and the championships committee face. Their charge is to provide opportunities for high school athletes, but their tournaments also must be profitable.

“The OSAA State Championship Committee has the same challenge that our Executive Board, Delegate Assembly and each individual member school has — trying to provide lifelong memories for our students, knowing that the bills have to be paid for those experiences and opportunities not only by the association but by the member schools.”

When teams advance to the state tournament, they incur costs for travel, hotels, meals and so on. Both the OSAA and its member schools shoulder those costs. Eliminating games from state tournament schedules — and in the case of volleyball, shrinking the number of tournament sites — will thereby reduce expenses. Regarding consolation play, these costs are being incurred with a minimal payoff at the other end.

At least in basketball, as Simmons pointed out, interest in the consolation games has been lacking. The statistics do seem to bear that out, as recent tournament consolation games attendance can fairly be described as minimal.

For example, just more than 400 individuals attended consolation sessions — these are sessions, not just single games — on the two middle days of last year’s Class 5A boys and girls tournament in Eugene. Those numbers may be on the lower end, but attendance at many consolation sessions at the Class 4A, 5A and 6A levels has ranged between 400 and 700 individuals since 2010, the first year that boys and girls played at the same site for Class 6A and 5A. Those numbers translate to a lot of empty seats at the Rose Garden, Matthew Knight Area and Gill Coliseum, the big-school tournament sites.

“After looking at attendance and the financials and all those kind of things, really a big piece of it is attendance,” Simmons explained. “To support the elimination of the consolation and the third-place games at big-school basketball ... and then at all volleyball, it boils down to attendance and it boils down to the financial pieces, the impact of all of that.”

At this point though, nothing is determined and the committee could well move in other directions over its final five meetings, the next of which is slated for Sept. 30 in Wilsonville. Public comment is accepted and can be sent to Simmons at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“I think it’s important to keep in mind that we’re very early on in this process,” Waletich noted last month. “We’ve gotten very little feedback from coaches or community.”

Next week: An examination of recent large-school state tournament history, possible influences on attendance and implications.

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