December 18, 2014
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Sports Column
Big tourney is great, but it leaves a big gap

Instead of spending my Wednesday thinking about whether the Patriots are going to get Tebowed on Sunday, I found a way to be a little bit more productive.

I spent a good portion of the day trying to poke holes in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s decision to forego the basketball divisional tournaments this year in lieu of a single 32-team state tournament for all divisions.

The results came out a little mixed.

After all, I think the tournament itself is a good idea, and expanding it from 16 to 32 teams this season makes all the sense in the world. More teams get a shot, and it increases the likelihood of upsets. It also means that all three divisions should be fairly well-represented – or at least will have the opportunity to be if the teams play well – thanks to the new power points criteria. Division I teams get one point for a league win, Division II teams get .8 and Division III teams get .6. Add them all up at the end of the year – with one point added on to the score of the regular-season champion in each division – take the top 32, and there’s the tournament. It’s actually not as complicated as it sounds.

Because of that system, the tournament will almost certainly not be overly skewed toward Division I – which is also a good thing. Based on last year’s final standings, D-I would have sent 13 teams, D-II would have sent 11 and D-III would have sent eight.
Perfect.

But no matter how hard I tried, there was one thing that I just couldn’t make sense of, and it’s a big thing: Why did this expansion have to come at the expense of the divisional tournaments?

I just don’t get it. How is expanding the state tournament by one round and axing the three divisional tournaments mutually exclusive?

Take last year. The three divisional tournaments were held at CCRI, and the atmosphere was fantastic. I can’t remember a crowd more excited than the one that attended the D-I final, when Cranston West improbably came back and shocked Central.

It was the highlight of the season. And now it can’t happen again.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. The real problem with getting rid of the divisional tournaments is that we all know what’s going to happen just about every year.

A Division I team is going to win.

It happened last year when St. Raphael won the inaugural tournament, and there’s no reason to expect it not to happen going forward. Could a D-II or even a D-III team jump in and steal the title once in a blue moon? Sure – North Providence could do it this year. But that’s the exception to the rule. You know, the rule that Division I teams are typically better than D-II and D-III teams.

Isn’t that why they’re in Division I in the first place?

The point of having divisions is that not all the teams are equal. It’s the only way to try to even the playing field around the state. For example, who’s going to win, 99 times out of 100 in any given season – Hendricken or Pilgrim?

Hendricken is.

That’s why they’re separated into different divisions. Those divisions give every team, theoretically, a chance to play competitive games against teams a lot like itself.

Now, I know what some people will say. Sometimes, every once and a while, a team from a lower division will beat teams from higher divisions. It happened last year when Hendricken lost to Tiverton in the quarterfinals.

I agree, 100 percent. That’s why I think the state tournament should exist, for the off chance that something like that does happen. It’s an incredible accomplishment, and if a team really is the best in the state but isn’t in the top division, why not give it a chance to prove it.

But we all know that’s not going to happen regularly. So essentially, what eliminating the divisional tournaments is doing is regularly denying Division II and Division III teams their own titles. It diminishes the divisions beyond Division I. It’s like saying that the championships being won every year in Divisions II and III weren’t real.

Go ask Chariho, which just won the Division II title in football, if they don’t feel like actual champions. Ask Rogers, the D-III champ or Mt. Pleasant, the D-IV champion, if they feel like they didn’t win anything.

I bet they feel like Super Bowl champions. Because they are.

Taking away the divisional tournaments robs teams outside of Division I that opportunity on a consistent basis. And if a team in Division II or Division III is so good that it wins the state tournament, then what’s wrong with having a division and a state championship to its name?

That doesn’t seem so bad to me.

But instead, most teams won’t have a shot at any title. I’m sure some team is very excited at the prospect of going undefeated in Division III, having no celebration and then losing to a .500 D-I team in its only playoff game.

That’s where we’re headed.

Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached a 732-3100 and kevinp@rhodybeat.com.


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