Before COVID, sectional basketball was reserved for teams that had a record greater than .400. Since COVID, each team — no matter the season record — has had the ability to opt-in, and participate.
It was unclear if this approach would be permanent, but mid-season this year the commission announced it was the case. There are people that are for, and against, this format for different reasons.
Jon Rathbun is a sports writer that covers high school basketball. When asked his thoughts on the change, he said “I’m neither pro nor con on open sectionals, but I am not without opinions. Do it or don’t do it, but everyone should know going into the season what the rules are.”
Most coaches seem to feel the same way. The players seem to just enjoy the longer basketball season.
When Rathbun was asked if the new layout takes significance away from the regular season, he said “ I don’t think open sectionals lessen the importance of the regular season schedule. You’re still playing for a top four spot in your class to get as many home games as possible.”
The top seed gets multiple home games, because during sectionals, if you are playing a team with a lower seed, you have to go to their gym. Being a home team is a great advantage, because you have your home crowd and are in a gym you are familiar with.
Fans assume that the historically successful programs are against this format because there are more chances for them to get upset. For example, a team not winning a game in the regular season plays an unbeaten team in sectionals, and the undefeated team’s star player gets injured. These things are good and bad for the sectionals, however the new format does make for a great underdog story.
At surface level it doesn’t seem like the change would be such a big deal. But, it does affect things more than it might seem.
When Rathbun was asked, he said “If the team isn’t good, it now has a chance to work towards improving and maybe pulling off a surprise in the playoffs. If the team is grinding and playing well by its standards, it no longer has that .400 record as a target to shoot for. If you know sectionals are open before the season, coaches have to edit coach-speak and drop ‘qualify for sectionals’ from the list of team goal clichés that are the same for every team in every sport and every season of every year.”