Basketball state championships recap

March 28, 2013, 11:00 pm
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I spent my weekend last weekend at the State basketball championships at what is now the Sleep Train Pavilion in Sacramento, better known as Arco Arena. I worked the two days shooting two of the ten games we covered for Cal-Hi Sports and doing studio analysis between games for Time Warner Cable. It was 25 hours of basketball coverage that left me a little wobbly by Sunday morning.

The state is now using a new format with an open division which is about as complicated as the U.S. tax code. No one I talk to seems to have all the answers to my questions on this, so you won’t get anything definitive here from me. What I do know is the result of the new system based on the games played this past Friday and Saturday. There are six divisions for boys and girls, so 12 games overall. The teams from the north playing teams from Southern California with the winner named state champ.

From what I can gather, the reason for the new open division format is to allow schools who normally do not get a shot at a state title to have that chance. You can read that as meaning public schools can finally win a state title which hasn’t happened the past six years. THE CIF, which governs all of this, did succeed here. There were two games with both competitors from public schools, so there were two public school winners out of the 12 games. That’s the good news.

The problem is Northern California lost 10 of the 12 games. Only the Bishop O’Dowd girls and Pleasant Grove boys were able to beat their SoCal opponents. All but two of the games were close with the NorCal teams underdogs in nearly every game. The teams played hard and represented the north well, but in the end 2-10 really sucks. My thought is because the South has many more schools and students than the north the depth of really good teams is better. So when our seven best teams are put in the Open division the rest of our divisions are decimated to the point where teams that finish in third place in their league end up playing powerful teams from the south.

Then there’s the idea that an open division final would be so dynamic it would fill the arena and make big money for the CIF. That absolutely did not happen and the reason is obvious to everyone but the CIF. With just one Sacramento team playing in the finals, every other team had to travel at least 60 miles to play. The teams from the south brought nearly no one to the games. Teams like Mitty and College Park did their best to bus in a few hundred. The result, 12 games brought in 13,500 fans total. That’s an average of 1,125 fans per game, or the number of fans turned away at the door for Mitty’s NorCal playoff games.

My advice to the CIF here is this, have the games played each year in a population base where it is easy to travel either by proximity to the teams playing or on a plane flight. I would never have the games outside of the Bay Area, Los Angeles, or San Diego. When these games were played at the Oakland Coliseum there were huge crowds in an area hungry for entertaining hoops.

Then, the CIF needs to get much more aggressive in its marketing efforts. There is no promotion for these games anywhere in the major cities throughout the state. They have major sponsors paying huge amounts of money to get attention at these games and then 13,500 show up. The games were televised live only in Southern California, and some of the games only for people who have Time Warner Cable. So you have this huge event in high school sports, with some exciting action, and the final game featuring an epic performance by two of the nation’s best players, and nearly no one saw it. This is not fair to the fans, the schools, or the sponsors.

The Open Division format might turn out to be a great success for both North and South in the long run, we need a better sample size for this. But the CIF needs to realize the Bay Area is part of California and should be included in at least one CIF event each year, Sacramento is not the only city in Northern California. Los Angeles has the State Football finals with talk of rotating these games, the new Earthquakes stadium in San Jose would be the perfect spot. I hope this happens, but basketball needs to move out of the state capitol to an area that actually has teams playing in the tournament. I realize the CIF has a sweet deal with the Sacramento Arena, but this deal is clearly not in the best interest of the tournaments overall success.