Rules for home-field advantage need to be revisited
A few minutes after the Sandy softball team defeated Redmond in walk-off fashion on Friday, the Pioneers anxiously awaited word of who their semifinal opponent would be. Athletic director Scott Maltman informed them that West Albany had defeated Hood River Valley, and they were ecstatic.
I found it puzzling that Sandy received that nugget of news with such elation. West Albany was seeded higher and was seemingly a much more formidable opponent. The Pioneers excitement became reasonable when I learned that a West Albany win meant a Sandy home game in the semifinals, while a West Albany loss would have equaled a road game at Hood River Valley.
The Pioneers joy made sense, but the rule didnt.
Just as is the case in every bracket everywhere else in the country, higher seeds naturally get to play at home until the neutral-site championship. But hidden in the explanation of OSAA bracket formula is some small print that turns the seeding concept on its head.
If, after two rounds, a team has not had as many home playoff games as its opponent, that team gets to play at home. Seeds are thrown out the window to make things even and fair.
However, that approach is askew.
The whole point of seeding teams is to reward them for performance during the regular season. If that idea suddenly gets ignored, there is no point in seeding the teams at all.
In Sandys case, it fought all season to earn a No. 1 seed in the tournament. Had Hood River Valley prevailed at No. 2 West Albany, it would have hosted Sandy in the semis. Sandys top seed would have been negated because No. 3 Hood River Valley played at home once in its first two playoff games. Sandy would have been punished for being the better team. If claiming a top seed doesnt guarantee a home-field advantage, battling for it seems moot.
If fairness is the aim, the OSAA has missed the mark.
Sandy dodged a bullet when West Albany won, but on the other side of the bracket, Churchill fell victim to this warped rule. The Lancers claimed a No. 2 seed in the tournament and advanced to play Hermiston, a fifth seed. In the most important game of the year for Churchill, it was punished for being seeded higher. Hermiston played just one home game on its way to the semis, so it got to play at home against Churchill.
With these two teams, having a worse seed was advantageous.
The solution is actually simpler than one might think – play all semifinal games at the championship site. This would eliminate the problem entirely. The first two rounds would be played at the field of the higher-seeded team, so that wouldnt change. Instead of dealing with an unfair advantage in the semis, both teams would be on equal ground by squaring off at a neutral location.
Some might suggest this wouldnt work. They might say it would cause the players to miss too much school, but that doesnt have to be the case. The championship game is currently played on Saturday, so both semifinal games could take place on Friday evening. Little or no school would be missed and teams would get more fan support than on a Tuesday afternoon.
This model would at least prevent a punishment to teams because they are better.
The OSAA is right to strive for fairness, but it needs to take a look at what is really fair.