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Dave Nichols: High-quality prep basketball overshadowed by venue, format issues

I just attended my first “Hardwood Classic” at the Tacoma Dome, so I now feel qualified to offer some observations about the event, at least how I saw it for the 4A/3A championship tournaments.

First, this has nothing to do with the quality of the basketball played. I witnessed some historic performances and memorable experiences for a few of the local teams and I’m sure their memories won’t be tainted by sparse crowds and substandard facilities at the antiquated Tacoma Dome.

It’s a big building for high school basketball and represents a huge difference from the high school gyms these kids play in all season long, so it’s probably a treat for them to play on such a big stage.

For the boys finals on Saturday, it felt like a big stage – with large, boisterous crowds.

The rest of the tourney? Not so much.

The cavernous Dome, which was opened in 1983 featuring a David Bowie concert, holds 17,100 for basketball. It has hosted all manner of events, including the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics for a season and NHL preseason games.

But as a facility to host high school basketball games it’s charmless, woefully generic and physically cold.

And much like Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane, it is in poor repair and lacking in basic amenities.

The facility itself has to be part of the problem with the lack of attendance.

It’s easy enough to explain away folks not driving over from central or eastern Washington for the tournaments, but I can say unequivocally that games for several of the Spokane or Tri-City schools were better attended than consolation rounds featuring teams from Seattle and Spanaway.

It’s a shame there isn’t a more intimate, appropriately sized venue with modern amenities to showcase the best basketball in the state, as opposed to the nonglorified convention-center vibe of the Dome.

Wait, there is one. It’s located in Spokane and host of the State B tourneys.

Not to sound like Statler and/or Waldorf, but I have issues with the tournament format itself, too. Yeah, I know. Get in line.

I had a Twitter exchange with my predecessor, venerable scribe Greg Lee, about the tourney format on Friday morning in my break between University’s girls 9 a.m. consolation game and Central Valley’s 3:45 p.m. semifinal.

That discussion stemmed from the No. 1 Gonzaga Prep boys matchup against No. 2 seed Skyview in a quarterfinal game on Thursday.

The setup: Skyview was upset in a regional game and therefore was forced into an elimination game on Wednesday, slotted into G-Prep’s side of the bracket instead of the opposite side.

So instead of the tourney going by “chalk,” setting up a 1-2 matchup in the state title game, the Bullpups had to play the second-best-rated team in their tourney-opening game.

That seems outrageous to me.

Of course, that could lead into a tirade about the vagaries of seeding by RPI, but I’m a general proponent of that, so we’ll let that go for another day.

Let’s start with the idea that a team can lose a regional game but still be eligible for the state title. To me, that’s preposterous.

As it is now, the top eight RPI-rated teams in the regional games are “protected” from elimination during regional play. It becomes a double-elimination tournament – but just for those teams.

Seems unfair and unnecessary.

But I don’t want to get rid of the regional round. I just want to tweak it.

The regional sites generate revenue for the leagues and the WIAA, and it would be a nonstarter to do away with them.

But I’d like to suggest that the WIAA go back to the straight 16-team format and use the regional weekend to play the true first round games, so that way you’d have No. 1 vs. No. 16, No. 2 vs. No. 15, and so on, and be assured to have the two best teams remain on the opposite side of the bracket.

Under that format, you’d eliminate half the seeds during regional play. That would make those games more dramatic and exciting – and better attended – considering they’d be more convenient geographically to the highest seeds, all played on Saturday when family and fans can actually attend without missing work or school, and carry the possibility of being the last game of the season for any of the teams.

What that would do is remove the need for Wednesday elimination play at state. The tourney would pick back up on Thursday with the top eight teams, just like it is now.

They could even play a consolation bracket with Thursday’s losers on the weekend if they wanted to keep them. That way, every team traveling to the state tourney venues would be assured of two games, instead of how it is now.

From Spokane to Tacoma is a long way to go for one game.

It sounds like it would be a revenue-losing proposition from that aspect – losing one day of the tourney. But all it would do is increase the consequences at the regional sites and concentrate the best play at state, therefore boosting attendance of all of those games.

The best basketball teams in the state deserve the best presentation of the state tournaments, and they aren’t getting that under the current arrangement.