Copyright 2018 Spokane Spokesman-Review
Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced earlier in the year that committees of coaches, administrators and media would determine seeding for the state football playoffs in 2018 instead of predetermined seeding before the season due to geography, league strength and allocation and other factors, as they have been historically.
On Wednesday, the WIAA announced those committee members. If you have a child playing football in Eastern Washington or the Tri-Cities area, you aren't being well represented.
Of the 32 committee members, split over three divisions, one is from Spokane. There are three coaches from Eastern Washington schools and none from the Tri-Cities area. There is no media representation from this side at all.
It's patently unfair to the 80 or so high schools and thousands of football student-athletes across the eastern half of the state. It's already bad enough that teams from this area have to travel to the Seattle/Tacoma area every year to play in state championships.
But here's the rub: The WIAA took everyone east of the Cascades who applied.
According to Greg Whitmore, athletic director at Ritzville and the head of the state's RPI committee, the WIAA decided to staff the committees through a volunteer application process and the board was surprised more from this part of the state didn't apply.
"I didn't know what we would get for applications," Whitmore said. "We sent out several notices and, honestly, we only had eight applicants from the east side of the state. And that's including the Wenatchee area. And all eight were accepted to a committee.
"We didn't turn anyone down."
I think it's a great idea to have these committees public and for them to be using empirical data (win/loss records), an RPI system, state coaches and media polls, MaxPreps rankings and other criteria to help with seeding, rather than an anonymous edict from on high.
But relying on volunteers rather than ensuring complete representation seems like a missed opportunity to me.
Judging from my social media followers, I'm not the only one.
When the board realized that Eastern Washington might be underrepresented, it considered recruiting or asking district directors to participate. According to Whitmore, they were too far along in the process and folks had already dispersed for the summer.
"Certainly next year we'll talk about committee makeup, and if we really think there was a bias, we may do more recruiting of members rather than just seeing the applications," Whitmore said. "I thought there'd be a lot more applications.
"Going into it, I just imagined there would be so much interest in it that we'd be turning people away."
Still, Whitmore believes having public committees is better than the previous seeding process.
"We'll look at it at the end of the year and see if it was better," he said. "If it was, good. But we'll still try to make it even better."
If I had a child playing football in Eastern Washington (I don't), I would be on the phone to my school's athletic director right now asking why my AD or football coach didn't apply to be part of the process.
By the way: I'm not lobbying to be on a committee. While I am the high school sports editor at the paper of record for more than 50 Eastern Washington high schools, I've only held the position since October, so I haven't even been through a full football season yet.
Still, there are literally dozens of qualified media members here — current or former — who could provide quality representation on one of these committees.
"Knowing that the East Side is a little underrepresented, one thing we're definitely going to talk about at our opening meeting before the seasons starts is bias," Whitmore said. "Anything like this, bias is a huge thing and we're going to try to make it as objective as we can."
John Barrington, athletic director at Mead, is the lone Spokane proper representative. He is a member of the 4A/3A seeding committee.
The 2A/1A committee has one Eastern Washington representative — coach Brycen Bye of Clarkston — and the 2B/1B committee features two "area" coaches, Jim Holman of Asotin and Kyle Kimble of Pomeroy.
Barrington thinks the committees will be agents of positive change and isn't necessarily worried about who is on the committees.
"I don't think it gives us less decision-making or input power," he said.
"I think the whole thing going forward can be a positive development. The makeup (of the committees)? Maybe they'll talk about that when we meet in August."
Barrington thinks that once the committee members are all sitting across from one another at a conference table, the best interests for all will be served.
"If there's criteria we can all agree on — whether it's one set or eight sets of criteria — however it's weighted, that to me is the opportunity to discuss it and then seed accordingly. It seems to me, it's a lot fairer shot for teams on this side."
What happens if the committee members don't agree on a set of criteria?
"We'll find that out at our first meeting," Barrington said.
"East Side folks have complained some when they see those brackets," he said. "Maybe that will go away."
It seems to me something this important should have been evaluated as to how it would — or could — be perceived by the general public, or the parent of a student-athlete in the Northeast 1A or Northeast 1B leagues, neither of which is represented.
I get that everyone's schedules are busy. But there's a long-held perception that the WIAA favors schools west of the mountains.
While everyone involved thinks it's better that these committee members' names are public and a system fair to all can be developed, the optics still imply that the coastal side dictates what happens across the state.
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