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Blogumn: Let's fix the PCAC

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Thu. January 28, 2010 | John C. Cotey | Email

How would you decide on conference tiebreakers, which seem to plague the Pinellas County Athletic Conference from year to year (though all conferences have this issue from time to time)?

Once the head-to-head tiebreaker is exhausted, it always seems to come down to rather convoluted mathematic formulas or meaningless games against lesser teams played months ago.

In the past two weeks alone, great lengths had to be taken to determine the PCAC girls soccer and girls basketball representatives. After all that, the teams that didn't make it weren't all that satisfied that the rules had been as fair as they could have been.

For example, in girls soccer, Palm Harbor University and Seminole were perfect against north county opposition. When the two teams played head-to-head, they tied. Ultimately, Seminole got the bid because the tie took place at PHU. Thus, is was ruled, in a way, that Seminole was more impressive in the tie because they did it on the road? That's dumb.

(Keep in mind, this was decided after another mini-controversy -- if you play a team twice, only one actually counts on your PCAC record. Keeping these two games straight seems to be a common problem. Seminole tied East Lake once, and beat the Eagles tyhe other time. It was finally decided the victory counted, not the tie as originally though. So PHU, given the north county berth, had it taken away.)

So, here's how it ended up: the PCAC soccer game did not include the undefeated, reigning state champions. That made it a joke.

(It should be noted -- Seminole beat St. Pete 8-0 in the PCAC game, and a week later PHU beat St. Pete 8-0 in the district playoffs. I'm guessing that is of little solace to the Hurricanes, because the county probably found Seminole's 8-0 victory more impressive because the weather was 7 degrees colder that night.)

Here's how it went with girls basketball, where St. Petersburg, Lakewood and Bogie all tied with one loss apiece, and because the Green Devils beat the Spartans who beat the Pirates who beat the Green Devils rendered the head-to-head argument moot, it came down to a rulebook that decided things this way:

a. The team which had the best record against all the other teams involved in the tie shall be the first place team (head-to-head). All three are 6‐1.

b. Record vs team with best record not involved in tie. All three 1‐0.

c. Record vs team with second best record not involved in tie. All three 1‐0.

d. Record vs team with third best record not involved in tie. All three 1‐0.

e. Record vs team with fourth best record not involved in tie. All three 1‐0.

f. Record vs team with fifth best record not involved in tie. All three 1‐0.

If first place is still not determined:
g. The team which had the best winning percentage against all teams in the south division (tournament games should not count) shall be the first place team. Bogie is 9‐1, Lakewood is 6‐1, and St. Pete is 6‐1. 

h. The team that had the best winning percentage against all teams in the conference (tournament teams should not count) shall be the first place team. Bogie is 14‐1, Lakewood is 9‐2, and St. Pete is 10‐2.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Technically, it appears (g) decided it in Bogie's favor, though they are merely being rewarded for playing more south conference games than Lakewood or St. Pete. Hardly fair, I think.

Clearly, (h) is a much better tiebreaker in this case. Ironically, getting the chance to play Clearwater came down to already having played Clearwater***, which beat Lakewood and St. Petersburg in the regular season, giving each team a second PCAC loss.

If Lakewood or St. Pete had beaten Clearwater, I'm not sure there was an (i), (j) or a (k).

***I can see why St. Pete and Lakewood would dislike this final solution. The lesson here is play more PCAC teams, just not the good ones. They shouldn't be punished for scheduling a tough game like Clearwater, but you can see where they might feel that backfired. And I'm assuming they even care about the PCAC. After all, they already played Clearwater -- now they get an extra day's rest.

The PCAC needs a better solution to breaking ties.

I'd create a three-person panel that would decide these things pronto. Just three folks who know the county and know the sports (former coaches or administrators) who can get together on the bat phone in an emergency. County A.D. Nick Grasso can break any 1-1-1 ties. And if I was on that panel, all things being equal, I would have voted for Bogie for these reasons:

1. They have won 16 straight games. No one in the county is playing better.***

2. They are 23-1.

3. While Lakewood beat them by four points and St. Pete beat Lakewood by five points, the Pirates handled the Green Devils by eight points.

4. They are the defending champions. (I stand corrected by a commentor...I was looking at 2008, not 2009 when Clearwater and Gibbs played. Thanks OUTBACK.)

5. Clearwater has already beaten Lakewood and St. Petersburg.

Some of this reasoning came into play. Instead of using a, b, c, d, e, f, g and h, though, why not try this?

***Note: I'm all about getting the best game with the most deserving combatants to determine the best in the county as long as certain guidelines, especially those involving scheduling, are followed.

It's a more subjective process, but it sure beats some lame tiebreaker rule based on some whacky mathematical formula based on games played back in December. Would that be controversial? Probably. But the current rules aren't?

All that said, I think conferences have allowed themselves to fade from importance, especially the PCAC. The North v. South format in the PCAC results in too many ridiculous mismatches in too many sports (an 8-0 soccer final is embarassing for any title game of any sort, and completely unnecessary) and results that no one cares about (teams resting stars, pulling starters, etc.).

I used to be a big proponent of conferences and their championships, until realizing they never match up the two best teams in the county (or the conference, for that matter). Now, I'm all about COUNTY championships.

An idea: Why not come up with a formula to determine the best four teams. You'll get better games, with more meaningful rivalries.

Did I mention you also get the BEST...FOUR...TEAMS?

Play a semifinal Thursday night, and the final Friday. Or even better yet, move it back a week, so teams and coaches aren't so concerned with playing a few days before the start of districts (a silly concern, by the way, in most cases, since there's plenty of time in between).

Reinvent it. Promote it. Make it special. Make people care.***

Imagine (4) Lakewood and (1) Clearwater playing tonight, followed by (2) Bogie-(3) St. Pete. There's not a bad final that can result in that final four.

Only then will you really be able to say who the best team in the county is.

***There may be holes in my argument, but I say let's have an argument about that.

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