In an ideal world, Skyline Athletic Director Bill Cupp would have the Class 3 Northwestern District hold tournaments in all its team sports, from which a specified number of teams would emerge and advance to the Virginia High School League’s Region 3B tournament.
That’s the way Region 4C operates because the structure of that region lends itself to such a logical method of playoff advancement. The 15-team Region 4C, which includes Sherando, is split nicely between the Dulles District and the eight Class 4 members of the Northwestern District. Holding district tournaments to determine who advances to the regional round makes sense in that instance.
Region 3B, the home of Skyline, Warren County and Central – a new arrival with the latest VHSL realignment – isn’t built in the same manner. The 12 schools that now make up Region 3B (it will be 13 in the 2020-21 school year with the arrival of Lightridge, a new Loudoun County school) hail from six different districts: Battlefield, Capital, Colonial, Dulles, Northwestern and James River.
Region 3B can forget using district tournaments as a way of building its regional tournament field, and the Class 3 Northwestern District will continue to not hold a tournament at the end of the regular season. Athletic directors also elected to ditch the eight-team cutoff used for the Region 3B tournament over the past two years in favor of an all-in format, given the scattered nature of the region.
In 2019-20, all 12 Region 3B teams – Central, Skyline, Warren County, Armstrong, Brentsville District, Goochland, Independence, Manassas Park, George Mason, James Monroe, William Monroe and Maggie Walker Governor’s School – will automatically qualify for the regional tournament in team sports, with seeding based on the points system the region used in years past.
In the new Region 3B tournament format, the top four seeds will receive first-round byes.
“It would’ve been impossible to really come up with a system that was perfect, that could guarantee time and time again that you had the best one through eight, like how I think most typical region tournaments are,” Central AD Justin Broughman said. “Going to an all-in system, we talked about giving it a shot this year and seeing how it plays out.”
Athletic directors will get the chance to weigh the good vs. the bad in Region 3B’s all-inclusive system next school year.
On the one hand, an all-in approach guarantees that every team has a chance to compete at the regional level and leaves the door open for playoff upsets.
The new Region 3B tournament structure also eliminates the need to determine who is or isn’t worthy of a playoff spot among teams that don’t regularly play each other and that play vastly different regular-season schedules.
Region newcomer Maggie Walker, for example, is in a Colonial District that includes six Class 5 schools. Meanwhile, another new arrival, Goochland, is the only Class 3 school in the James River District; the other eight members of the district reside in Class 1 or 2.
“I understand the thought process behind everybody getting a chance to make it, because if not you get a situation where we essentially don’t play the same regular-season schedules,” Cupp said. “You’re saying that a team that’s 5-15 in baseball is necessarily better or worse than a team that’s 7-13, but we didn’t play each other. You take the risk, and that’s happened to us where we didn’t make the playoffs in certain sports because of the way the power points fell out. If you’re all-in, you take care of that. That’s one way of looking at it.”
But with so many teams in the regional field, there is fear that life as the 11th or 12th seed in the tournament could be a miserable one filled with undesirable, lengthy road trips to play a lopsided contest.
“For me, the biggest concern that I have is that putting the 12th best team out of 12 in a tournament, the competition aspect may not even be worth it,” Broughman said. “I hope that we’re not that 12th team, and I don’t think in many sports, or any sports, that we will be that 12th team, but that’s the part that kind of worries me. It’s not so much the money or the economics. It’s that you’re setting a team up that’s been crushed all year long to then get crushed in the region tournament.”
Dike and Cupp expressed similar concerns about the level of competition in the first round of the regional tournament.
“For those middle schools, as far as the schools that maybe are nine or 10 in the ranking, I can see you get that opportunity to play. But if you’re the 11th or 12th team and you’ve struggled through a one-win or no-win season, do you really want to play another game? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t,” Cupp said.
“I do like the fact that it will be settled on the field or court. The only real iffiness is who gets to host or who plays who but it’ll be settled out amongst the kids as opposed to the way the math falls out on a spreadsheet.”
There’s also the economic impact of travel to consider, with Region 3B teams scattered from the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond, Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia.
At least 85 miles separate Central from five of the 11 other Region 3B member schools, and Skyline and Warren County also would need to travel over 100 miles one way to play games against Goochland, Maggie Walker and Armstrong.
“Our concern once again, and this was our concern before, is distance,” said Dike, who did acknowledge that the region has grown stronger in athletics and academic activities with the new additions. “Who’s gonna go watch Maggie Walker play Skyline? Or Goochland play Warren County? Or Manassas Park go down to play Armstrong? … The distance thing is something we’re real concerned about, and what kind of attendance and stuff we’re gonna get, and if we’re gonna end up burning more money on the roads than we are getting in attendance. But you never know, so we’ll just see how it plays out.”
Broughman agreed that money could become an issue under the region’s all-in format.
“I understand that we probably won’t get as big of a region cut at the end of the year if we end up having these games where we pay officials $300 and there’s only $150 brought in at the gate,” he said. “I see that being a problem.”
Central and George Mason each moved from the Bull Run District to the Northwestern after getting bumped up from Class 2 to Class 3 in the newest VHSL realignment, joining holdovers Skyline, Warren County, Brentsville, Manassas Park and William Monroe to give the Class 3 Northwestern District seven teams. Culpeper County remains in the Northwestern but moved up to Class 4.