HARRISONBURG — Hoping to improve the atmosphere at its tournaments, the Virginia High School League is moving the state semifinal basketball games back to the Siegel Center in Richmond after a one-year hiatus.
Mike McCall, the VHSL’s media relations director, said the group’s Executive Committee decided this week that having state semifinal games at supersites at various locations hurt the basketball tournaments.
“After reviewing the plus and minuses, it was overwhelmingly decided that the attendance was down and some of the excitement of having the semifinals and finals at the same place was lost,” McCall said Friday.
The VHSL switched to a six-class format this school year and moved the semifinal games to regional supersites, mainly due to the success of the supersites for quarterfinal games, McCall said. But that success didn’t translate to the final four, and McCall said the committee voted unanimously to move the games back to one venue.
“Every year you review what’s good and what’s bad and try and improve it,” McCall said. “There are hard decisions and easy decisions, and this was an easy one.”
Next year’s tournament will go as follows: Division 1A, 2A and 3A boys’ and girls’ semifinals will be played at the Siegel Center on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the finals on Thursday. Then, the 4A, 5A and 6A boys and girls will follow the same format through the weekend, beginning Thursday, with the championship games played on Saturday.
The schedule will flip the following season, with 1A, 2A and 3A games starting on Thursday.
“It really wasn’t much of a discussion,” McCall said. “[Committee members] had a month to look at various options. They felt that this was still the best option.”
A drop in attendance, McCall said, was noticeable at the championship games in Richmond this year.
“It wasn’t a ‘wow’ type drop, but it was a drop,” he said. “Not having it in one location, some of the crowd you lose is just people that come to the tournament. They don’t have a team, just some of those walk-up crowds. Not having the semifinals there did have an impact.”
Specific attendance figures at Virginia Commonwealth University’s 7,500-seat Siegel Center were not available.
Spotswood High School girls’ basketball coach Chris Dodson, whose team won a second straight state title in March, said he was fine with the semifinals being at supersites but also sees the advantages of having all the games in Richmond. The Blazers played a quasi-home game at James Madison in the semifinals before heading to VCU, where they defeated Broadway.
“Putting the semifinals in one spot puts everything on equal footing,” Dodson said. “It gives you a chance to see everybody. It didn’t mind me one way or the other.”
McCall said the VHSL also approved a rule that will limit high school football teams to 90 minutes of full-contact practice per week. Previously, teams were able to do as much hitting and tackling to the ground as they desired, but due to concussion awareness and player safety, it will be limited this fall.
The rule, McCall said, comes from a similar regulation put into place last June by the University Interscholastic League in Texas.
“It’s been coming for some time, how do you get better player safety?” McCall said. “It was all good, the coaches in Texas pushed for this. This wasn’t a principal driven decision – coaches wanted these type of guidelines because they’re looking for how they can protect their kids.”
East Rockingham football coach Donnie Coleman does not see the 90-minute limit as a big issue. He said most coaches are already under that limit, opting for a more structured practice rather than a lot of full-contact scrimmaging that could lead to injuries.
“To be honest, believe it or not I think we’re under what they’re limiting,” Coleman said. “I don’t think anybody does full contact 11-on-11 scrimmaging anymore. As far as 11-on-11 full-live, I don’t know how much coaches do that anymore. You start doing that and you don’t have anybody left for Friday night.”