District 4 does a disservice to athletes, sport with poor tournament process

Wondering when Midd-West’s boys soccer team will play its first District 4 Class AA tournament game?

So am I. But the fact that no one knows is less of a problem than the other issues that plague the district’s playoff brackets this year.

It goes back to last year, when someone in the district hierarchy made a decision – a very, very bad decision – to expand the soccer brackets.

First, a quick review: District 4 is the one that traditionally has demanded a .500 record – more than reasonable – although its seeding process often left a lot to be desired because of the disparity in competition strength between the conferences in the district.

The district flirted with open tournaments in basketball a few years ago, but ended that experiment after a season when it was nearly humiliated by a team with only five wins that came within sniffing distance of the state tournament because its early round opponents were from the relatively weak Northern Tier League.

Some districts do have fixed-size brackets, and they work. In District 3, for example, 12 boys soccer teams are seeded into the Class A bracket out of 31 total teams in the district, with the top four getting first-round byes. But in District 4, we apparently can’t have byes – being rewarded for being successful is no longer allowed? – so 16 teams were invited.

That’s 16 out of 20, 80 percent of the boys teams in the district in Class A. For girls, it’s 16 of 24 – two thirds of the Class A teams.

If you need an example of why this is such a horrible idea – in both genders – look no further than Tri-Valley League member Line Mountain.

The Eagle girls, fifth among seven TVL teams with a 6-12 record, have scored 1.06 goals per game while surrendering 3.22. And they’re good compared to the boys, who made the tournament with a 2-16 record (0-14 in the TVL, the league’s worst). The boys are averaging less than a goal per game and have allowed 94 – more than the top five teams combined – over the course of the season.

This is a playoff team? I don’t think so.

At least two adults had to sign off on this – the soccer chairman, and an administrator from the school. Those are the first two who deserve to be the target of wrath for demeaning the value of athletics so gracelessly.

Here’s the scary part – the Line Mountain girls almost made it to the quarterfinals, thanks to another school district that showed more restraint.

Wellsboro pulled out of the field based on a school policy that requires a .500 record to compete in the postseason – a really, really good policy – which means that, instead of No. 1 Southern Columbia from the Heartland Conference, the Eagles faced No. 2 Meadowbrook, an Allegheny Christian Athletic Association school.

While Meadowbrook has a sound team, the ACAA is hardly on par with the TVL, and the Milton-based Christian school barely escaped Line Mountain with a 1-0 win in the first round.

The fact that a team that won just a third of its games nearly upset a team that went undefeated with 19 wins and two ties (regular season plus a league tournament) speaks volumes about District 4’s inability to properly fill out a bracket.

In the case of Midd-West, it’s somewhat understandable why the bracket does not include a play date or field location – District 4 makes an effort to pair teams from the same school whenever possible, and that forces just-in-time scheduling.

That, and last year, the district had to reschedule every five minutes due to weather anyway. You can understand the soccer committee being a little gun shy.

Still, a date at least isn’t too much to ask for.

This whole tournament shows disrespect for the fans, the teams who deserve to be there and quite honestly the concept of playoffs. The member schools of District 4 deserve – and should demand – better.


Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at jfishbein@lewistownsentinel.com.