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Coming to fruition: Girls' basketball to feature open tournament

June 19, 2014

PROVIDENCE – After several years of watching Rhode Island high school boys’ basketball crown one undisputed state champion and do so with mostly positive reviews, the girls’ hoops community is officially prepared to follow suit.

A few details must be resolved and tournament sites arranged, but everything else is all systems go after the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Principals’ Committee on Athletics earlier this week voted unanimously to sponsor a season-ending tournament to determine one girls’ basketball state champion. A 10-team division tournament in each of the three divisions will take place prior to the top 16 teams engaging in a statewide tourney.

Boys’ basketball has adhered to the “last team left standing is declared the winner” standard to the season since the 2010-11 campaign. There were several format changes that ranged from the number of participating schools invited to the open tournament to not having divisional tournaments prior to implementing a system that would satisfy all parties. The last two boys’ seasons have included both divisional and state playoffs.

The implementation and subsequent staying power of an open tournament in boys’ basketball has spoken volumes to the belief that there’s parity in the sport. Though a non-Division I team has yet to capture the open tournament, there have been several instances where squads from Division II and III have performed well, i.e. the 2013 North Smithfield unit that didn’t lose a game until falling to eventual champion Classical in the Final Four.

On the surface, the gap between the upper echelon teams and the lower tier in girls’ basketball seems substantial. La Salle has captured nine Division I titles since 2001-02 with North Kingstown the only program to win more than once over that span. Going a step further, the idea of La Salle squaring off against a Division II or III representative offered more mismatch sentiments than the belief of equal footing.

Tom Mezzanotte, RIIL executive director, noted that while the Girls’ Basketball Coaches Association has always left the light on with regards to an open tournament, they haven’t been pushing it. Some concerns were perhaps alleviated due to the restructuring of the three divisions that will be in place for the next two seasons.

In Division I, there are 10 teams, down from 16 a year ago. Division II and III will feature 20 teams apiece and be broken down into North/South components. Locally, the biggest changes are Cumberland and Woonsocket dropping from Division I to II, and Tolman, Central Falls, Mount St. Charles and Burrillville falling from Division II to III.

In Division II-North, you will have Woonsocket, Johnston, Scituate, St. Raphael, Lincoln, North Providence, Cumberland, Moses Brown and Juanita Sanchez, which is moving up after winning three straight Division III titles.

In Division III-North, there’s Classical, Mount St. Charles, Central Falls, Tolman, Davies Tech, Burrillville, North Smithfield, Shea, Bishop Keough and Masters Regional.

All three divisions will play 18 league games.

“We changed the dynamic of the three divisions to make it more competitive. I think this is a tribute to the girls’ ability to play at all levels,” Mezzanotte said. “That committee had representatives from athletic directors and coaches from all three divisions. Cindy Neal [co-athletic director at Bay View] has been the director of girls’ basketball for many years. We had a number of good meetings. The surveys came back with good suggestions and I think that we took all of those into consideration.”

In taking a page from boys’ basketball, the girls will abide by the same Power Point Standings for seeding purposes. League and divisional playoff wins will be worth one full point in Division I, eight-tenths of a point in Division II and six-tenths of a point in Division III.

Once the dust settles and the hardware is handed out to the three divisional winners, the top 16 teams based on the Power Point calculations will step into a brave new world. The top four teams in the open tournament will be awarded an opening-round bye.

With the girls officially mimicking their male counterparts, the next step is to find venues that accommodate both tournaments. Mezzanotte said that discussions with area colleges and universities are in the works.

“It’s an opportunity for all schools,” says Mezzanotte. “It’s an added tournament for them to compete in and should be a lot of fun for the girls and fans.”

Below are some other items discussed by the PCOA at RIIL headquarters, located on the Rhode Island College campus:

-- Two-year realignments were rubber stamped for all winter sports. In boys’ basketball, you have three divisions featuring 17 teams in Division I, 18 teams in Division II and 14 teams in Division III.
Divisions I and II will not be broken into subdivisions, thus eliminating crossovers. Each Division I team will play its fellow members once for a total of 16 league games. A 17-game “one and done” schedule awaits Division II members.
Division III will have three subdivisions, two with five teams apiece and one with four. Due to the imbalance of the number of teams in each subdivision, qualification for the Division III tournament will be determined by winning percentage.
Moving up from Division III to II is North Smithfield. Lincoln could have moved down to Division III but opted to remain in II.

-- In hockey, the boys will skate in four divisions: Championship, Division I, Division II and Division III. The Championship Division includes three Catholic high schools (Mount St. Charles, La Salle, Bishop Hendricken) and two public schools (Smithfield, Cranston West). Those five squads will play one another four times and compete in two out-of-state games for a total of 18 league games.

Division I will include defending Division II champion Cumberland alongside Lincoln, North Smithfield and Burrillville. There will be two subdivisions of four teams apiece with a 17-game league slate. Woonsocket will be back in Division III.

The girls will abide by one division. There will be 15 minute-periods in all divisions with this interesting caveat. In the third period only, running time will commence if there is an eight-goal difference in the score. In the event that the score becomes less than eight goals, regular stop time will be reinstituted.

-- Citing the desire to move the RIIL Hall of Fame ceremony/dinner to a less congested time of year, the PCOA voted to move it from the spring to the fall. The next event will take place in the fall of 2015.

-- A rule the PCOA is looking to add to the bluebook is one that would make sure that officials remain on the court or field until after teams and coaches go through the handshake line. The only sports where officials remain on the grounds until the teams vacate the playing surface are soccer and hockey.
“This is a time when issues happen,” Mezzanotte said.

-- Dan Richard, Principal at St. Raphael Academy, has agreed to serve on the Waiver Hearing Committee.

-- The request made by Mezzanotte to serve as a voting member of the Rhode Island Interscholastic Athletic Administrator Association was approved.

-- Requests by Bishop Keough to withdraw in softball and Bay View likewise in girls’ hockey were approved without penalties assessed.

-- After voting to extend the football officials’ contract through the 2015 season at the March 24 PCOA meeting, the group voted to have the contract expire at the conclusion of next season. Last spring saw the PCOA and Southeastern Massachusetts Football Officials Association enter into a two-year agreement that would feature the assigning of officials to be used in RIIL contests by Jim Ashley, commissioner of officials for SEMFOA.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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