I sympathize with the Alaska School Activities Association. At the same time, I don’t.
I sympathize because, as sports editor, I know how hard it can be to round up basketball scores from around the state.
So I can understand how the following horrid scenario happened:
• Soldotna girls basketball team learns Sunday night that it has qualified for the Class 4A state tournament by virtue of its Winning Percentage Index, or WPI.
• Soldotna girls basketball team learns Monday, immediately following a practice they interrupted spring break to attend, that two missing scores from the Southeast Conference tournament had been added to the WPI, and now Lathrop was state-bound instead of SoHi.
I don’t sympathize with ASAA because, as a sports editor responsible for rounding up hoops scores from across the state, Monday’s debacle was no surprise.
Keeping comprehensive track of basketball in Alaska is a nightmare.
Fax machines don’t work. Fax machines do work, but they spit out a pure black piece of paper that doesn’t even give a clue as to the sending school. Somebody promising to email a result doesn’t come through. Actually, they did come through, but, shoot!, they spelled peninsula wrong in addressing the email. And none of the coaches get cellphone service in Bristol Bay!
You get the picture.
With the system ASAA was using to collect scores, a major problem was inevitable. Schools and coaches are supposed to send scores to ASAA, which are listed on the ASAA website the first Monday of February and March. Schools and coaches then have the school week to review those scores and make sure they are all there.
I have a lot of respect for the coaches and administrators that are involved in basketball. The season starts in late November and runs through mid-March. There isn’t a lot of pay involved. The nights are long.The travel is strenuous. I believe these coaches and administrators do a tremendous job in setting aside these difficulties and providing a tremendously valuable experience to student-athletes.
But are they reliable enough for the above system to work 100 percent of the time? No.
And the plight of the SoHi girls shows the system must work 100 percent of the time.
The Stars were tripped up by an odd meshing of events at the Southeast Tournament. In the past, the girls tournament had consisted of two games, and two games were initially reported. It was on Monday that ASAA found the event had changed to four games this year, leading to the heart-sinking message on SoHi coach Doug Blossom’s cellphone as he left practice.
That specific postseason problem is easily fixable, and to his credit, Russ Schreckenghost, associate director at ASAA and the one responsible for WPI, stepped forward with a solution. Next year he will require teams to submit a game schedule for each conference tourney, then check off each game.
But that simple fix leaves a larger problem lurking. The two games that swung the WPI in favor of Lathrop were Thunder Mountain defeating Ketchikan and Juneau-Douglas defeating Thunder Mountain.
Schreckenghost said over 850 scores were used to calculate WPI, and two were that important.
What if they’d happened in the regular season? What if Lathrop had diligently double-reported all its games, only to lose out on a state tourney bid because of something that had happened over 1,000 miles away? Is that fair to Lathrop?
Gary Matthews, the executive director as ASAA, says he knows of games that haven’t been reported in the past.
One example that Blossom brought up Monday was a Feb. 15 game between Colony and visiting Kenai that wasn’t on the list of reported WPI scores. Blossom said Schreckenghost told him that game wouldn’t make a difference for SoHi in the WPI.
There is clearly a flaw in the system. Games are not being reported, and only a single unreported game can cost a team hundreds of miles away a state berth through no fault of its own.
There are two paths forward for the WPI. One involves fines.
Before the beginning of the season, each Class 4A team must submit a schedule with endowment games noted. ASAA can then cross-check the schedule and make sure endowment games are the same on all schedules to eliminate that confusion.
With the weather and travel in Alaska, schedules change. ASAA must be notified of a change in schedule by the home team within one school day, punishable by fines. The easiest way for me to miss reporting scores in the paper is to not know that game is scheduled. This system would combat that problem.
Home teams also must report the scores of all varsity games or hosted tournaments within one school day, punishable by fines.
That way, ASAA can put the schedules online, as they do for football, and keep the scores updated. The WPI also could be regularly updated.
The other path forward for WPI is no path forward. In these days of school budget crunches, I realize it sounds ridiculous for me to be talking about fining schools for not reporting schedule changes or basketball scores.
But if reporting scores and schedules in a timely manner is so difficult that fines would endanger activity budgets, then incidents like SoHi’s plight, and worse, will always be a distinct possibility.
Using the WPI system is popular. Even with Monday’s incident, my interviews with ASAA officials and area coaches did not find anybody backing away from the system.
The sentiment can best be summed up by Kenai Central boys coach Ken Felchle, who had to scramble to get several scores reported last season in order to assure his boys nabbed a WPI qualification:
“If they’re going to do it, they better make sure they get it right.”