The idea of changing the playoff format for the Colorado High School state basketball playoffs has been met with mixed reactions from area coaches and administrators.
But Chuck Howell, assistant commissioner for the Colorado High School Activities Association, said the changes are needed to make sure high school basketball tournaments in Colorado remain exciting.
"We needed to bring some pizazz to the tournament," Howell said. "We have been told that we had too many teams -- especially in the 5A -- making it into the state basketball brackets. Some coaches thought the whole process had become too drawn out and there were too many blowouts in the early rounds."
The suggestions led to sweeping changes in the 5A format. District playoffs have been eliminated and teams will earn a berth if they win a league title or are ranked in the top 48 teams at the end of the regular season by a special selection committee.
The 4A division will experience changes, as well. While it will continue to hold district and regional playoffs, only four teams will advance to the state championships, as opposed to eight that have gone in the past.
At least for this year, 4A will continue to hold district playoffs, but Howell would like to see that change to the format now used in 5A.
This year, 32 teams will be bracketed in 4A, based on district playoff finishes. A selection committee (made up of more than 50 applicants from across the state, each of whom must watch a minimum of 20 games) will then decide how those teams will be seeded in the brackets.
As in the past the higher seeded teams will host first-round games at their home sites.
However, the teams advancing to the second round will be reseeded and play at one of four pre-selected locations in a trimmed-down regional. Only one team from each of those tournaments will advance to the state finals, which will be played at the Coors Event Center on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder. In the past, the finals have been held at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Steamboat Springs boys basketball coach Kelly Meek fears the new format will result in his team traveling to more games in a shorter period of time. He also doesn't like that only four teams in the division will advance to the finals in Boulder.
"It means that the players, fans and parents of four teams will not have that experience," Meek said. "I'm probably just being selfish, but I think most of those teams will come from the Western Slope."
Moffat County girls coach Craig Mortensen agreed.
"I don't like the final four," Mortensen said. "I don't like any changes that limit the number of kids that get to go to the state tournament."
Steamboat has made it to the final eight in seven of the past 14 years but has advanced to the final four only twice. Montezuma-Cortez won the state title in 2002 and advanced to the final four last year and the Glenwood Springs boys made it to the semifinals in 1994 before being knocked out.
On the girl's side, Moffat County has made it to the semifinals twice, in 1992 and 1993, and the Steamboat Springs girls cracked the barrier in 1993.
"It's going to make it that much harder for us to get to the actual state tournament," Meek said. "Playing in a place like the Pepsi Center is something that my players will remember for the rest of their lives."
Howell, however, argues that the excitement generated at the regional level would rival a team making it to the floor of the Pepsi Center in the quarterfinals.
Howell said finances played a key role in the decisions to make the changes. He said schools should save money in decreased travel expenses and that, under the new format, only teams with a good chance of making a run at a state title will advance.
The move to Boulder was needed because the Pepsi Center will host the Mountain West Conference's basketball tournament the same weekend that the high school tournament was scheduled to take place.
Howell said the state tournament also was moved from the Pepsi Center, where CHSAA paid $192,000 for 16 games, to save money. The location in Boulder is slightly smaller and less expensive.
Meek and Mortensen are opposed to the changes but hope for the best this season.
"I'm not excited about it, but it might turn out to be a good thing. I guess we'll just have to wait and see," Mortensen said.