Warren Arceneaux column: New twist to district races

Published 1:25 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Ever since the onset of the power ranking era, district titles have mattered little beyond bragging rights, patches for letterman jackets and sometimes a bonus to the champion’s power rating which could boost seeding for the playoffs a spot or two.

Many districts have chosen to move away from playing a true round robin, again with an eye on having more control over their power rating with more freedom to determine the quality of opponents in most games. That means less local rivalry games, but schools wishing to preserve traditional rivalries can just schedule each other for non-district games to keep those intact.

That was the price paid to get rid of the geographically based playoff brackets, which had the big flaw of placing powerhouse teams in matchups in the early rounds of the playoffs, and keeping many of the state’s best teams from the state championship tournament.

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One local district is taking a new strategy this year, bringing a little taste of March Madness to the area in advance of next month’s Marsh Madness state tournament.

District 3-5A, large in terms of both number of teams and distance between them, reduced the district schedule and is using the final week of the regular season to play a district championship tournament. The tournament winner gets the power rating bonus point — but not an automatic playoff berth. The champion must finish in the top 32 of the power rankings to get the playoff berth.

I hope the idea catches on — with the caveat that winning the district tournament guarantees a playoff spot. That’s a part of the charm, and frankly maybe the only charm of the conference tournaments in college basketball, seeing a lower-seeded team make a run to the big dance. Particularly for the smaller conferences that usually get only one bid each season.

It gives every school a chance to reach the postseason and some motivation to keep working on improving throughout the season with a playoff berth as the prize. It could help reduce the impact of injuries/missed games for teams that can return to full strength by the end of the regular season.

Sam Houston head coach Rob Acord said the change has numerous benefits.

“It gives every team a second chance to be district champions, no matter what has happened,” he said.

“It gives you a chance to play big games, playoff-type games, before you start the playoffs. The decision to change to this format was overwhelming among the coaches. Playing every team twice was a little much. There was some downside – such as how to figure out a three-way tie for second place, but we were able to put stuff into the bylines and use the power rankings for that.

“The kids are super excited about it. They are fired up to have another chance to become district champions. That is a goal we set for ourselves before the season started. Things didn’t go the way we wanted, but now we get a second chance with the tournament.”

The tournament began Monday with the higher-seeded teams playing at home. The first round matchups produced a good local rivalry with No. 6 Sam Houston facing No. 3 Barbe at the Legacy Center at McNeese State University.

That’s a great setting for a big-stakes high school game.

Perhaps other districts will follow.

The format is likely to stick in District 3-5A, which will have nine teams next year. Districts 3-3A, the former 4-3A, and 4-1A will each have seven teams next year and may consider adopting the new format to avoid having district games take up half or more of the nondistrict schedule. District 3-4A will have a wide geographic imprint, with teams as far north as Leesville and as far east as Rayne.

One round of regular season games and a tournament would help save a few long trips.

Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at warren.arceneaux @americanpress.com