Playoff bracket in 5A gives teams 'upset insurance'
GameTimePA reporters Teddy Feinberg and Jim Seip discuss potential District 3 basketball title teams from the YAIAA. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
It's easy to feel a little confused when looking at the new District 3 Class 5A boys' basketball playoff bracket.
With 16 teams making the district playoffs and 10 of those qualifying for the PIAA tournament, things are a little complicated.
In addition to the standard four-round championship bracket that will determine the tournament's winner, there are two separate consolation brackets — for a total of 27 games to be played over a span of 12 days.
Oh, and every team that loses in the first round of districts will still have a chance to make the state playoffs.
How will that work? Let's break it down.
First off, the eight teams that win in the first round will gain automatic bids to the PIAA tournament. The teams that lose in the opening round will enter an eight-team consolation bracket to determine the ninth- and 10th-place finishers. The winner from that bracket earns the ninth spot, and the runner-up grabs the 10th. The six teams that don't reach the ninth-place final will be eliminated.
Sounds simple enough. But then you have to remember that the four teams that win in the first round but lose in the quarterfinals still have to play their own consolation bracket to determine their state playoff seeding. The team that wins twice in that bracket will get fifth place, while the team that loses twice will get eighth.
So to recap, two teams that lose in the first round will still make the state playoffs. And one team — whichever comes in eighth — will carry a three-game losing streak into the state tournament, after winning its district opener.
That raises a few questions. Should teams be allowed a mulligan right away? Should winning once really grant you a state tournament appearance?
Those who say, "No," might object to the safety net that's built in, or argue that district playoff games should be high-stakes affairs. One of the top seeds could lose in the first round and still be in a decent shape to make states, albeit at a lower seed.
But when you look at the situation, it's hard to find a better alternative. There are 37 Class 5A schools in District 3, easily the most the classification has in any district. (District I is second with 26.) Because of that, the PIAA granted District 3 the most playoff spots in its 32-team bracket, leaving the district responsible for developing a bracket that could produce 10 teams.
District 3 webmaster Rod Frisco said the only other realistic option was to limit the number of consolation games and look another way to seed teams that lost early in the district tournament. The district determined that wouldn't be fair.
"If we’re going to move out 10 teams, you’re going to run into situations like this," Frisco said. "This was the best way to do it. Teams do have some upset insurance now, but I believe if you win, you win and if you lose, you lose. I'm sure people have differing opinions."
How will this affect the YAIAA teams in 5A fighting for state playoff berths? There are four local teams in the bracket; No. 1 Northeastern, No. 4 Spring Grove, No. 13 New Oxford and No. 14 Dover.
The Bobcats and Rockets could benefit from so-called "upset insurance," while the Colonials and Eagles need just one unexpected win to snag a berth.
Spring Grove isn't thinking that way, though. The Rockets lost in the 4A semifinals last season and are determined to win a district title this season.
"We never talk about the next game anyway so they don't even know that," Rockets head coach James Brooks said. "We don't look at the power rankings, at least they don't hear it from me."
But for New Oxford, which was one of the smallest 4A schools in the previous classification system, this year's bracket is a breath of fresh air. After years of not coming close to districts, the Colonials have a realistic chance to make the state playoffs.
"I would pay money to be the 16-seed right now, I'm dead serious," New Oxford coach Sean Bair said earlier this season. "We just want to get in, and we don't care who we play in the first game. Looking at those next couple (consolation) games, we're feeling very confident.
"I think (this year's bracket is) a great thing because for so long with four classifications, the schools our size had no chance to ever get in really. We’re closer in size to Fairfield than Red Lion. If a team wins two games and they're the nine (seed) and they get smacked in the first round of states, so be it. They were probably good enough to be there."
The District 3 Class 5A tournament is set to begin Feb. 20 with the championship game on March. 3.