In most postseason formats at nearly every level of sports, the defending state champion Raiders would have received the No. 3 seed in their playoff section because of their regular season finish. The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, however, only awarded two seeds and dispersed the remaining teams at random.
Eleanor Roosevelt drew the No. 5 spot out of six teams, played on the road in the first round against a team with a worse regular season record, and was promptly eliminated.
Now, the MPSSAA is changing. The Board of Control voted unanimously in April to seed all teams in each playoff section according to their regular season records, beginning this fall.
“It will certainly give people a clear picture,” MPSSAA executive director Ned Sparks said. “This seemed to be the overwhelming favorite of the coaches, so we’ll move in that direction.”
The change will affect all open tournament sports in the fall and winter, including boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ soccer, volleyball and field hockey. The new rules cannot be finalized for spring sports — including boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, baseball and softball — until December.
“But I anticipate another unanimous vote,” Montgomery County Director of Athletics Duke Beattie said.
In previous years, the MPSSAA seeded the top four teams in each region and randomly dispersed the remaining teams throughout the bracket. Then each region was split into two sections, which were predetermined based on geography, but the random seeding continued.
The arbitrary system caused a variety problems across all sports, but it was most detrimental to the most competitive teams. Some, like the Annapolis boys’ basketball team, narrowly missed one of the two available seeds in their section and were forced to play a first-round road game against an inferior opponent. For the Panthers, who would have been the No. 3 seed based on their regular season record, this meant traveling to Leonardtown, the team with the worst record in the section.
Teams that received a coveted top-two seed were not spared. The Mount Hebron girls’ lacrosse team, for example, was the No. 1 seed in its section but drew six-time state champion Century, which was randomly given the No. 5 seed, in the second round.
“I think that the sectional scheme had some unintended consequences,” Beattie said. “You could well have the top three or top four teams in the same section. That can happen. But seeding only two, you could have what would be the third or fourth best team in the region playing the top seed in the first round.”
Some coaches would like to see the MPSSAA eliminate sections altogether and seed every team in every region by regular-season record, but that change is not yet on the table. Sparks said the sectional format was implemented to cut travel costs for schools and limit travel time for students, allowing them to stay in class longer and return home earlier.
While the sections will remain, the new seeding rules mark a small but important move toward playoff balance.
“I think it’ll make a huge difference. It makes the regular season worth a lot more than what it was,” Gaithersburg baseballCoach Jeff Rabberman said. “Seeding everybody is definitely a step in the right direction.”