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Friday, Feb. 19, 2016: Do we need to let everyone into sectional tournaments?

   Leading off today: Gates Mills (Ohio) Gilmour Academy broke to a 72-1 halftime lead in its girls sectional basketball tournament opener Wednesday and beat Northeast Ohio Prep by a final score of 108-1.

   Gilmour Academy is seeded first and Northeast Ohio Prep 13th in the Division III tournament.

   Northeast Ohio Prep shot 0-for-28 from the field.

   All of which brings me to a blog my former newspaper colleague Jeff DiVeronica wrote for the Democrat and Chronicle on Thursday. After examining some lopsided scores in the first round of the Section 5 tournaments, he built a case for ending the "open tournament" format in which all teams qualify for the postseason.

   "Put a cutoff on how many teams get into sectionals, use some sort of points system, because when I see scores of early round games that have higher seeds winning by 51 and 49 points, well, I don't like it," he wrote. "If interscholastic sports are supposed to be about enriching the experience for kids, you tell me what a teenager learns by being completely embarrassed against a peer."

   Later, he writes: "If and when my daughter chooses to play a sport -- she's 2 years old -- I know there will be value for her in learning how to handle defeat or coming up short of her goal, like not making sectionals. Heck, it just might make her work more and try harder the next time. What a concept. Maybe some of those players who were on the losing side in those lopsided games Wednesday -- two other boys games were decided by 49 points and another 37 -- will go into the off-season with new motivation. But was it worth the embarrassment?"

   DiVeronica and I talked for a bit before his blog was posted online, and I thought the case he spelled out in that conversation was strong. And then I did some quick research ... and contracted a case of second thoughts about contracting the sectional fields.

   That's because showed a total of 31 first-round boys games around the state this month were needed as play-ins to get the field in a particular sectional classification down to a neatly fitted 16 teams. Of the 31, a very respectable 11 were "upsets" based upon the way teams were seeded.

   That's pretty compelling evidence that everyone deserves that one-in-a-million shot, right?

   Well, not really. Five of those "upsets" involved a No. 17 seed defeating a No. 16 seed. Aside from the margin of difference during the seeding process potentially being little more than a rounding error, what you're really looking at when No. 16 and No. 17 meet is approximately a 4-16 team tangling with a 3-17 team.

   And then comes the clincher: Of the 11 lower seeds that won their play-in contest, none of them -- as in zero, zilch and zippo -- triumphed in their next game and advanced in the sectional quarterfinals. The losing margins were 48, 21, 8, 21, 25, 37, 9, 51, 38, 12 and 16 points. Only John Jay Cross River approached Buster Douglas territory, extending No. 1 seed Tappan Zee to overtime before falling.

   And lest we forget, even Buster Douglas didn't make it out of the third round against Evander Holyfield his next time out after his stunning defeat of Mike Tyson.

   So, yeah, DiVeronica's premise does hold up. Even if this particular data sample is very small, it's convincing. We don't need every team to participate in the postseason, and there are a lot of teams that don't deserve to be there.

   Count me among the legion of observers who would rather limit sectional fields to perhaps two-thirds the eligible teams. As the tradeoff, can we please expand regular seasons from the 20-game maximum to 22 games?

   Give everyone two more non-league games they can use to schedule an opponent closer to their skill level. The Mount Vernons and Brentwoods of the world can use those games to play a couple of more games against top-shelf competition, thus preparing for deep playoff runs.

   And the coaches who know their roster full of sophs and juniors is destined for a 4-16 season can pick up games against teams closer to their own ability, hopefully giving their kids two more tastes of what nail-biters feel like to make those kids that much tougher both later in the year and in the season(s) ahead.

   The NYSPHSAA over the past two years begrudgingly gave basketball teams back the two games that were taken away in the aftermath of the 2007 recession, but New York still ranks near the bottom of the nation when it comes to the length of the regular season, and PSAL and CHSAA coaches seem to schedule 24 games quite comfortably every season.

   More this weekend: I was crunched for time today between my "real job" and a couple of other commitments, so I didn't come close to addressing a pile of other very interesting tidbits Friday. Besides continuing to build out NYSPHSAA tournament brackets in boys basketball, girls basketball and hockey, I will probably be churning out two blogs a day over the weekend to get caught up before we get down to playoff crunch time.

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