It's championship day in high school hockey - St. Thomas Academy vs. Hermantown at noon, Hill-Murray vs. Benilde St. Margaret's at 7. It's also a big weekend for conference college basketball championships, as anyone who watched the Gophers drop yet another heartbreaker last night knows. Watching the two of these side-by-side this year has made me realize that, for all of its flaws and foibles, and for as much as I've complained about it in the past, I actually like the way the Minnesota State High School League does the playoffs.
I have, in the past, sneered at the "everybody-gets-a-trophy" style of tournament. Some people are still miffed about having two classes for hockey, or four classes for basketball, or seven now for football. Thinking about this, though, I can't remember who I was sneering at. When I was a senior in high school, and again when I was a sophomore in college, my high school went to state in boys' basketball, which traditionally is the most popular sport in Ortonville. As the entire town lined up outside the city limits to welcome the team bus back home, or as the town emptied on the day of the tourney so that everyone could make the drive to the Cities, I don't remember anybody thinking, "Well, this is fun, but it's sort of a joke because there's four classes for basketball now, not two like when we went in '82." I like the idea that as many kids, and parents, and small no-stoplight towns like mine, get that experience as possible.
I've also complained about the fact that virtually everyone makes the playoffs in every sport. This does lead to some serious wallopings, especially in hockey; you can count on seeing scores like 14-0 and 26-1 in the first round of the playoffs every year. But the good thing about doing this is that it eliminates the smoke-filled back room where section administrators have to decide who's in and who's out in the playoffs. Tomorrow night, the NCAA Men's Basketball Selection Committee will sit down and ruin the Big Dance dreams of teams across the country. Not even one-quarter of the eligible teams will make the tournament; I can't imagine high school administrators having to cut the playoffs down to the same level. There'd be wild controversy throughout Minnesota. The argument against this would be to note that 15 of the 16 section No. 1 seeds in hockey made it to the state tournament, so it's not like section administrators would have had hard decisions to make. That said, the lone outlier - Benilde-St. Margaret's - was the third seed in their section, and they're in the state title game tonight.
Sure, the big-tent, multiple-class tournament system is unwieldy and overlarge. But it's fun. It's fun for as many athletes, parents, students, and schools as possible. And really, isn't that what this is supposed to be about?
On with the links:
*Tim Allen of Canis Hoopus went to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and has a recap of what he heard. It's long, but it's interesting for those of us who A) like sports research and B) couldn't think of a good enough reason to spend all of that money to go.
*SB Nation has started its own YouTube channel, which leads to videos like this one, where Matt Ufford goes to curling nationals and discovers the exact same things that everyone discovers when they go curling for a story. However, he also has an interview with Minnesota's Pete Fenson, long a nationally recognized curling powerhouse, and he found out something else interesting: Pete Fenson seems like no fun whatsoever.
*According to an ESPN survey, professional soccer is now the second-favorite sport of 12-to-24 year olds. More of these kids are avid fans of international soccer than of the MLS. This link is brought to you by my long-running campaign to remind you that soccer is not potentially a major sport in America in the future because it is a major sport in America already.
*And finally: I suppose that homophobia in professional sports might never completely go away, just in the same way that racism lingers. That said, the tide feels like it's turning, helped in part by campaigns like the Burke family's You Can Play campaign. I encourage you to read, and watch the video.