Hutton: Time to turn the lights off on the blind draw
By Mike Hutton 613-0141 or firstname.lastname@example.org October 14, 2013 6:06PM
Andrean head coach Phil Mason gives senior Matt Guerrero a play call against Kankakee Valley during the first half Friday, October 4, 2013, at Andrean High School in Merrillville. | Scott M. Bort-For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 16, 2013 6:18AM
In many parts of the state, the blind draw was televised. The Indiana High School Athletic Association has a contract with FOX Sports as the television home of the IHSAA Championships.
Northwest Indiana, fortunately, couldn’t watch it live. No one here has picked up the feed.
I try not to needlessly bash the IHSAA. It’s easy to get people riled up about the high school basketball tournament format or the IHSAA’s uneven application of its transfer rule or any form of discipline the governing body of high school sports in Indiana has to mete out.
They get paid to be the bad guys. They are just doing their job — and sometimes it hurts for somebody or some school. There is lots of nuance that they have to deal with that can’t be easily distilled to the general public.
But this one thing just has to change at some point: The blind draw, one of the unique elements of the state tournament, needs to go somewhere and never come back. Ever. They need to put it in a closet with peach baskets and the leather football helmets. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s good. Covering the draw is awful, talking to coaches about how surprised they are about who they “got” is awful and trying to feign enthusiasm about the energy created from this random event is awful.
Not to mention it’s awful because I haven’t talked to one football coach yet who is in favor of the blind draw. Not one and I’ve had this conversation with about 10 coaches.
There are two camps with the blind draw. You either hate it or you are, at best, ambivalent about it. You are ambivalent because it does no good to waste energy on something that likely won’t be changed soon.
Okay, so here is part two of the problem.
The IHSAA has artificially drummed up interest for the blind draw with the commercialization of it.
I remember a time, before email became the primary mode of communication, that a story would hit the wire about the draw. It was usually written by the Associated Press. We’d call coaches, do the perfunctory hold-your-nose interviews for the hold-your-nose stories and move on. It was quick and fairly painless.
Indiana needs to change its format for placing teams in the tournament.
They do this thing called seeding. Great concept. Been around for years in states like Illinois. You actually reward teams for playing well during the season, thereby avoiding the randomness, of say, having the two best teams in a sectional play in the first game.
It’s the format most coaches favor.
“It’s completely ridiculous that we don’t seed the playoffs,” Andrean coach Phil Mason said. “I don’t understand how people can say they are athletic-minded and not do it. It’s done in every other aspect of sport. If you are going to have a season, you have to have some sort of reward for your accomplishment during that season. It has to happen.”
There are potential problems with actually coming up with accurate seeds for all the schools, but there should be some standard for creating an early advantage in sectionals for the best teams during the regular season. Most coaches favor seeding based heavily on the Sagarin rating.
Sagarin is a complicated mathematic formula that weighs the probability of a team winning against another opponent based on the strength of the opponent. I don’t completely get it, but it really seems to work.
The football coaches actually had language in place to replace the blind draw with seeding when they made their proposal for the tournament success factor and the added sixth class.
But IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox wouldn’t even consider seeding, according to Reed May, the coach at Brownstown Central, who organized the new tournament format for football.
Cox refused, saying if he seeded the tournament, football would be the only sport that didn’t have a random draw. I found it curious that Cox would shut down something out of hand that had overwhelming support from its members.
The whole IHSAA mantra is that they administer and run sports in Indiana and they make sure not to dictate policy, yet this was problematic because it would be inconsistent with what other sports do.
Football isn’t like any another sport in the state — that’s why it has six classes and not four — and well, the revolution needs to start somewhere. Just let it happen, Bobby, please.
Watching the seeding show online, with Phil Baker and Cox, and the coaches in studio who were “selected” to be interviewed, it dawned on cynical Mike why Cox doesn’t want to kill the random draw: Football and basketball pairing shows are a big part of their television championship series. They actually have commercial breaks and sponsors and real business reasons to keep the random draw in place. The artificial buzz from the pairings show would be gone.
Gasp! There would be no more pairings show and sectional draw stories. And, yes, the end of the season wouldn’t be diminished, like it is now for some teams who have already wrapped up their conference championship and who are already getting ready for next week, by going as easy as possible this week.
And alas, the coaches would actually be happy with a format that makes the regular season more meaningful and has a lot more integrity than the current format.
Unfortunately, none of that is good television, which means we’re stuck with what we have until someone can convince the IHSAA that just about anything — like “Gilligan Island” reruns — is better than the pairings show.