COLUMN: Playoff scenario isn’t effective for PAC hoops

From 2005-2018, Thomas More University (formerly Thomas More College) was in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.

Out of those 13 years, 12 featured Thomas More’s women’s basketball team claiming the PAC championship. Even in the one year Thomas More didn’t win it all, it still appeared in the championship game.

The ludicrously one-sided women’s basketball bracket called for some formatting changes throughout the years and even then, it still didn’t matter.

The bottom four seeds (fifth through eighth) would play in the first round, the third and fourth seeds would go straight to the quarterfinals, and then the top two seeds would advance immediately to the semifinals with the top seed, which was always Thomas More, hosting both rounds.

After some headaches that resulted in the Saints vacating the 2015 PAC Championship amongst other things, Thomas More finally left the PAC at season’s end last year.

Especially in basketball, this changes the playing field not just for Waynesburg University basketball, but for all nine teams in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.

However, the playoff format, at least for the 2018-19 season, remains the same for the women. The first-round games feature the bottom four seeds battling in the first round, with the third and fourth seeds awaiting those winners in the quarterfinals, and the top two seeds going immediately to the semifinals.

Compare this to men’s basketball where it is a simple eight-team format where the top seed faces the lowest seed, the second highest seed takes on the penultimate team, so-on and so-forth.

The women’s bracket creates an almost unfair advantage for the top two seeds. They get not one, but two rounds off and all that they have to do is win one game and they are in the championship game.

Thomas More was always the number one seed and, given that it was head and shoulders above everybody else, it would be in the championship game. They would then face the number two seed in three of the four years with the modified playoff format.

However, when you look at the men’s PAC playoff bracket, it allows for some potential upsets to occur in any round. Flashing back to the 2016 PAC men’s basketball tournament, the seventh-seeded Westminster Titans made a run to the semifinals after squeaking into the playoffs with a play-in victory over W&J and upsetting second-seeded Grove City in the first round.

If the men’s playoff format matched the women’s, Westminster would have had to play sixth-seeded Thiel on the road, and whoever would win that game would play third-seeded Bethany in the quarterfinals. That’s a much different dynamic than playing the number-one Saint Vincent team that Westminster played in the 2016 semifinals.

Saint Vincent swept the regular season series with Westminster, while the Titans split with Bethany AND Thiel in that year’s regular season.

In the same year but now on the women’s side, fifth-seeded Saint Vincent made a run to the semifinals before falling to Thomas More. However, keeping with the theme of ‘one of these things is not like the other,’ the Bearcats would have played fourth-seeded Grove City immediately in the first round of the playoffs instead of having to beat eighth-seeded Bethany to get to Grove City.

While it does eliminate an almost automatic situation of having the one-seed defeat the eight-seed, it is almost too much of a reward for the top two seeds going straight to the semifinals.

A first-round bye is understandable, but in an attempt to level the playing field, it instead created even more of an unfair advantage for the top two seeds, especially the one-seed since that team would host the semifinals AND championships.

Now with Thomas More out of the equation, it should go back to a regular eight-team format at the very least. The playing field is much more level with every team losing at least one conference game already this year.

Or, if the PAC only has nine teams remaining, it should consider having a six-team playoff with the top two seeds getting a first-round bye. While that may seem counter-intuitive to the argument stated earlier, it almost makes up for it considering that now there is some sort of standard to be met to make the playoffs.

That scenario could be true for both the women’s and men’s PAC fields. With only one team out of the playoff picture, what happens if the PAC gets a situation where there is a tie for last place in the current playoff format?

For example, take the men’s standings last year with the current eight-team format and Thomas More gone from the PAC. That would mean Chatham and W&J would both have a case for playoff contention as the eight-seed. They split the regular season series, so why should one of those teams get left out?

You can’t judge too much from non-conference schedules because every team plays different levels of competition. You could have a play-in game, but then that would mean technically every single team from the PAC gets in the playoffs in some fashion.

The regular season would mean nowhere near as much if every team makes the playoffs. It would eliminate all of the drama that sports fans want in their events, including for those affiliated with the PAC’s institutions.

With all of that being said, there should not be differing standards for men’s and women’s basketball. Playoff brackets should be universal for each gender, much like they are for other PAC sports like soccer, baseball and softball. It is not fair for the players and coaches affiliated with those teams and it creates an inconsistent standard.