Washington now has the most complex state tournament format in the Northwest

by Transition Hoops Report


This year, the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) has decided to change their high school basketball state championship format and use an RPI based 16 team regional format that will then qualify 12 teams to the actual state tournament.

The WIAA has been playing around with their state championship format for years. It has evolved from a four day, 16 team tournament to a 16 team regional play-in format to the current format.

So how does this format compare to other states? Are they similar or is there a format that you think would be better?

Take a look at these states and their formats and let us know what you think is best and why.


How it works

The Washington State Tournament is now a four day event with 12 teams based on regional play. The 3A and 4A tournaments are held in the same location in Tacoma, the 1A and 2A tournaments are held in Yakima and the 1B and 2B tournaments are in Spokane.

The regional round of games, which occur the Friday and Saturday prior to the state tournament, determines who gets in to state and where teams are placed. To get in to regionals, teams must first qualify through their own conference and district’s qualifying process. From there, the regional seeding is based on a team’s RPI rating. Win your regional game and you are in. Lose it...well, you might still be in. Click here to read the press release on their new format.

Not every team that loses in regionals is out. Four of the teams that were ranked in the top 8 and lose their regional game will still get in. They just have to win an extra game in order to bring home the championship. Click here to see an example bracket.

What it means

Now, the regular season is going to have a big impact on on the post season. And even though you still qualify for a regional game through your conference or district, your seeding in the regional round is based on the RPI, which is a combination of your record, how good your opponents are and how good your opponent’s opponents are. Complicated but totally trackable with current technology. The first RPI are expected to be released in January.

Teams that finish in the top 8 of the regional qualifying teams (according to their RPI) will compete at state no matter what, with the higher seeded team hosting the game in their district.  Finish in 9th-16th place of regional teams and you’ll need to win your regional game to get in. From there, teams will have to win three or four straight games to win the title.

The downside is that there is the potential of two teams facing each other in 3 out of 4 straight games. This is not necessarily a flaw if the seedings are true. But it could eliminate some cross state games, which is the appeal of regional and state tournament play. For example, if team #4 and team #5 are in the same district, they may play each other in their district championship, in the first regional game and (after the first state game) in the second state game. After speaking with the WIAA, they did say that this is just their first go at this new format and are open to changes in the future.


What it should do is give the best chance of the best eight teams making it to the quarter finals. 


How it works

The Oregon State Tournaments boil down to 8 teams from each classification in a 3-day single site tournament. Each classification hosts their three day tournament in a different location around Oregon.


The teams that get in are based on a combination of play-in games and “expanded” state tournament brackets, which some states would consider regional play. The brackets get as big as 32 teams for some classifications so regional play is sometimes 1 or 2 games.

Teams that qualify for the expanded state tournament either come from automatic spots that their league determines or through “at large” spots, determined by the state’s rating system. Their rating system is a combination of an RPI that accounts for wins and losses, home and road games and strength of schedule along with the Colley Rating, a number based on classification competition. If you are confused, click here to read about their qualifications.

Ultimately, 8 teams will make it to the single site three day tournament.

What it means

Much like Washington, your regular season matters, especially if you don’t win your league. The “at-large” spots ensure that a top team isn’t bumped out in the case of a freak loss at the league level.

It also means that while winning on the road helps your RPI, losing at home can be costly.

Once you qualify for the expanded state tournament, your rating will determine your seed. This is very important for the first round or two as the better seed will host those games.


How it works

There are four classifications in Montana - AA, A, B and C, biggest to smallest, respectively. Each classification is broken into two, three or four divisions across the state based on the number of schools in each class. Additionally, those divisions may be broken down into districts or conferences.

Each division then qualifies a specific number of teams that make up the eight team single site three day state tournament. Teams at the Class B and C level also have the chance to make it to state through challenge games, in the case that a district or division only qualifies two teams for state. In this scenerio, if the third place finisher never played the second place finisher there is a challenge game that happens the Monday before state. The winner is in. Click here and scroll to page 54 for the Montana handbook explanation.

At the state tournament, the seeds are pre-determined and generally start with a cross state game (meaning teams from different divisions will play against each other). The tournament is set up to find a true champion, second place and a true third place finisher by adding an extra game for teams that lose their first or second game at state. Click here and scroll to page 4 for an example bracket.

What it means

Montana is all about second chances and proving yourself. If your division only gets two teams to state and the second place team hasn’t beaten the third place team, there could be a challenge to get in.

And if you lose your first or second game at state, you can still win the third place trophy. But you’ll have to win two games on Saturday to do it. This makes for some real battles and sets up a great Saturday night as fans are treated to a true third place game prior to the championship game.


How it works

The eight spots at the Idaho State Tournament are pre-determined years in advance. Spots are offered to the six Idaho districts based on the number of teams in that classification in that district. The more teams in a district for a classification, the more spots offered at state. Some spots are split between two districts, requiring a pre-tournament play-in game at a neutral location.

The state tournament is then held at facility in Southern Idaho with all the championship games held on Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa. Click here to see example Idaho brackets.

What it means

For most districts, getting into state means qualifying through the district tournaments. And most districts give every team a chance to get in regardless of how their season went. At that point, it is a double elimination tournament to see who wins or finishes in position to get to the state tournament, depending on how many slots that district gets.

The regular season seeds you in your district tournament. If you go 0-20 in the regular season but win your district tournament, you will come in as the top seed from your district.

The pre-determined state seeding can lead to some interesting early match ups. The Idaho State tournament is definitely aimed at simply finding the state champion and not concerned as much about knowing the true runner up, third place finisher, etc.


How it works

Utah basically divides their state into four different regions and four teams from each qualify for the Utah State Tournament with a total of 16 teams in the four day tournament. The state tournament bracket is pre-seeded prior to the start of the year.

Each region determines how their four teams will qualify.


What it means

The Utah State Tournament is pretty straight forward: find a way to finish in the top four of your region and you get in. Win four straight at the state tournament and you bring home the hardware.