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It's time to re-think seeding procedures

February 1, 2013 - Mitch Rupert
Get to Milton early Saturday morning. Fireworks are set to go off at 11 a.m., and there's going to be a lot to watch from the start of today's District 4 Duals tournaments.

Five of the eight teams competing in this morning's Class AA quarterfinals reside in the Sun-Gazette coverage area. Add in Jersey Shore wrestling against Shikellamy for the Class AAA title and it's going to be a busy day for local teams. And by no means is it going to be easy.

But that's why it's going to be so much fun. Has there been a more exciting time for the District 4 Duals since its inception than this year? Maybe it's because District 4 now sends three teams to the state tournament. Maybe because one of the district's top teams, either Warrior Run or Benton, is going to be sent home after this morning's quarterfinals. Or maybe it's because three of the four quarterfinal matches are rematches from earlier in the season.

Whatever the reason, sit back and enjoy. As wrestling fans, you're fortunate this year that things have worked out this way.

Wednesday, the first day of the district duals tournament, was a magical night if you were out at a match and following along with the results of other matches on Twitter like I was. It was a night not unsimilar to the final night of the 2011 Major League Baseball season where it was minute-after-minute of awe-inspiring results, and heart-pumping back-and-forth scores that got you hooked into the tournament.

Even in blowouts like Central Columbia's win over Sullivan County you had Shawn Nitcznski's great win Lewis Williams to keep you intrigued. Even in Benton's lop-soded win over Southern Columbia, Zain Retherford's win over Blake Marks and Kent Lane's win over Matt Welliver were worth the price of admission.

Forr as awesome as the tournament has been so far, and for as awesome as today is shaping up to be, there is one question that needs to be asked: Will District 4 be sending the three best teams to the state tournament, or just the teams which happen to finish in the top three?

This is an interesting question which has been debated on message boards since the official brackets were released Sunday afternoon. There are two things wrestling fans, and even coaches, seem to be able to agree about this year's district duals tournament: 1, Central Columbia and Benton are the two best teams in the field, and 2, The battle for third is going to be intense.

The district nearly had a semi-catastrophe on its hands when Central Columbia and Benton were in position to meet in the quarterfinals until Williamson opted out of the tournament as the No. 2 seed after they were ravaged by injuries and illness. But instead of either Central Columbia or Benton being eliminated from the tournament in the quarterfinals, the Tigers are facing the same scenario against Warrior Run this morning. So either Benton or Warrior Run isn't going to have an opportunity to even wrestle for third since there are no wrestlebacks in team competition.

So maybe it's time to explore a new way of seeding the tournament to make sure the best three teams represent the competition. Let's be real about the scenario first, no matter how you seed the tournament, the teams still have to hold up their ends of the deal and avoid upsets, which is never a given in District 4.

But the district's seeding procedures of using pure winning percentage to determine the seeds of the tournament has become antiquated. Many of the district's around the state use a formula beyond just winning percentage to determine their field and then seed their field.

Forcing teams to finish with at least a .500 winning percentage isn't such a bad idea. How often do teams capable of advancing out of the district tournament fail to finish with a .500 record by the cut-off date? Not very often. But once determining the field, then various formulas could be used to determine seeding.

Maybe the district needs to factor in opponents' winning percentage into the equation as almost a strength of schedule so teams who wrestle tougher dual-meet schedules aren't penalized as much for picking up losses against tougher teams.

Look at the two biggest upsets pulled in the first round Wednesday night. Muncy and Hughesville were seeded 11th and 12th after finishing with 11-8 and 11-9 records. But according to opponents' winning precentage, Muncy wrestled the toughest dual-meet schedule in the district with an opponents' winning percentage of .627. Hughesville had the second toughest schedule with an opponents' winning percentage of .616. Only Montoursville, which had a surprising 13-7 record despite starting seven freshmen and sophomores, had an opponents' winning percentage over .600.

Is it much of a surprise then that Hughesville was able to upset No. 5 Wyalusing and Muncy was able to upset No. 4 Troy after being tested throughout the year? Probably not. But did they deserve better than the 11 and 12 seeds in the tournament? Absolutely.

District 3 uses a formula throughout the season which combines a team's winning percentage with the team's opponents' winning percentage, putting extra weight in the formula on the team's winning percentage.

District 11 uses a formular that is similar to the one used for football in District 4, assigning different point values for beating AA and AAA teams. Those same principles are used in calculating an opponents' winning percentage. They're formulas that seem complicated at first look, but can be easily calculated using spread sheets.

Either way, the systems are still better than the system of going strictly by winning percentage. The sport of wrestling keeps evolving, and as we approach 15 years of district and state dual-meet competitions, it's time to let the qualifying and seeding procedures evolve as well, especially as teams are beginning to seek out tough competition outside the district.

But the focus of the qualifying and the seeding needs to be sending the best representation of teams to the state tournament, not just deciding the three teams which will represent the district. And the powers that be in the district need to ask if that's what's being accomplished.

Mitch Rupert covers high school wrestling for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.

 
 

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