Coaches, fans reacting to MHSAA basketball brackets that just look wrong

LANSING, MI – The MHSAA’s new seeding system sounds good to most people.

But it looks way wrong.

So when the Michigan High School Athletic Association posted the girls basketball district pairings Sunday – giving everybody their first glimpse of the new system in action – there was a knee-jerk reaction.

The Michigan Power Ratings system ranks the top two teams in each district and places them on opposite sides of the bracket, ensuring they can not meet until the district final. But it does not give them a bye, only the same random opportunity at drawing a bye that every other team in the district receives.

And when the No. 1 seeded team did not draw a bye in the MHSAA’s universal five-team and six-team brackets, the pairings looked all kinds of wrong. Players, coaches and fans took to social media – and contacting the MHSAA – to illustrate that point.

“When you have a five-team draw and the No. 1 seed is playing in that rat-tail game, we’re aware it looks different than most tournaments you’re used to seeing,” said Andy Frushour, assistant director of the MHSAA. “There’s no doubt this is a unique way to determine the draw. So, we’re not idiots, we fully anticipated all of this (feedback).”

In virtually every tournament where teams are seeded, the top seeds receive automatic byes when they are available. That is not the case with the MPR system, which was adopted by the MHSAA Representative Council in May 2019. The girls basketball districts were finalized using the system for the first time on Sunday and the boys districts are being finalized Feb. 23.

Prior to this season, district tournaments for boys and girls basketball were done completely by random draw. But that routinely left powerhouses such as Saginaw High and Saginaw Arthur Hill or Detroit King and Detroit Cass Tech facing each other in the first or second round of district play.

The ratings system was enacted to prevent those top teams from facing off prior to the district championship game.

“The council passed this proposal with two goals in mind. They wanted to identify the top two teams using a computer formula, so it wasn’t based strictly on record or having coaches voting on it, and they wanted to make sure those two teams couldn’t meet until the district finals,” Frushour said.

“There have been proposals to seed all the teams and do a traditional draw, but that wasn’t their aim. They didn’t want seeded teams to get automatic byes or home games or any extra benefits.”

None of that seemed to raise much ire when it was announced May 8. And when the MHSAA held its random draws later that month – setting the formula statewide for four-, five-, six-, seven- and eight-team brackets – the reaction was minimal.

But now that teams see exactly where they fall in the seedings and pairings, it has sparked plenty of attention.

“Of course, when we did the random draw and the seeded teams didn’t get the bye, we understood that we were going to hear complaints from fans and coaches,” Frushour said. “But we’ve been up front from the beginning what this is all about. None of this should have come as a surprise to anybody.”

The boys soccer postseason utilized an identical system for the first time in the fall of 2019 and got similar reaction, Frushour said. But he also said that 81.7 percent of coaches responded favorably to the change in a Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association poll.

“The loud voices are calling for full seeding or additional benefits for the top two teams,” Frushour said. “By (the upcoming Representative Council meetings in) March or May, they may want to make some changes or they may say ‘This is Year 1, let’s give it at least two years before we tear it apart.’”

Another concern that is being voiced is the timing of the seedings. With 15 days remaining before the postseason begins, there are still many crucial games to be played in the regular season – games which could tip the scales on the Michigan Power Ratings system.

But those games will not factor into the seedings now that the district pairings are already set in stone.

“Schools need time to prepare for a tournament,” Frushour said. “There had to be some time in advance and it felt like one week was too tight. Two weeks seemed like the magic number.”

He said eight of the 64 districts in boys soccer would have been altered had the seeding been done at the conclusion of the regular season instead of two weeks prior.

Five-team bracket

Diving into the draw

With the new MPR system, the MHSAA uses universal draws to determine where each team is placed in a bracket. Those draws will be randomly done each season and are not the same for girls basketball and boys basketball.

Here’s how it works, using this year’s five-team girls basketball bracket as an example:

*The MPR system is used to identify the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in a district bracket. The No. 1 seed draws a random spot on the bracket from Line 1, Line 2, Line 3, Line 4 and Line 5. In this year’s case, it drew Line 2 and was placed in a quarterfinal game.

*The No. 2 seed draws a random spot on the bracket from only Line 4 and Line 5, as to not land on the same side of the bracket as the No. 1 seed. In this year’s case, it drew Line 5 and was placed in a semifinal game.

*Of the remaining teams, the first team alphabetically (A) draws a random spot from Line 1, Line 3 and Line 4. In this year’s case, it drew Line 1 and was placed in a quarterfinal against the No. 1 seed.

*Of the remaining teams, the next team alphabetically (B) draws a random spot from Line 3 and Line 4. In this year’s case, it drew Line 4 and was placed in a semifinal game against the No. 2 seed.

*The last remaining team (C) is placed in the last remaining spot. In this year’s case, it was Line 3 and was placed in a semifinal game against the quarterfinal winner.

This formula is then used universally by all five-team districts in Michigan, with all No. 1 seeds on Line 2, all No. 2 seeds on Line 5, all first alphabetical teams (A) on Line 1, all second alphabetical teams (B) on Line 4 and all third alphabetical teams (C) on Line 3.

Credit: Lee Thompson

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