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Tournament Consolidation Debate

May 4, 2012, 10:00 PM by Shawn Neisteadt

Tournament Consolidation Debate

As resources and money have become increasingly difficult to come by for South Dakota school districts in recent years, districts have had to make changes, some of which have combined resources and consolidated two or more districts into one.  But a similar plan for some sports tournaments was met with opposition when the activities association unveiled the idea. 

The student-athlete experience is one many school districts across South Dakota promote as a way for the state's youth to learn fundamental skills and discipline that can lead them on the path of life-long success.  But offering the activities outside of class comes with a cost.

"I think it's a well documented fact the last couple of years what financial strains our member schools have been in.  We are constantly looking at ways to better serve our member schools, our student athletes, the fans, the communities, the people who support our programs.  Obviously, the first thing that jumps up is how can we help you financially," SDHSAA Executive Director Wayne Carney said.

That idea of financial help is just one factor that led the board of the South Dakota High School Activities Association to unveil a plan in March that would explore changes in South Dakota's high school tournaments for volleyball, wrestling  and AA basketball,

"I think people would like the idea of being able to watch multiple state championships on the same court, in the same community, on the same weekend," Carney said.

The idea would move the boys and girls AA basketball tournaments to one location and on the same weekend.  The idea of bringing the games together is something that has been done before for volleyball championships.

"The wrestling community has been looking for something like this for quite a while now.  They'd like to have one combined tournament so everybody could go watch both Class A and Class B," Sioux Falls Lincoln activities director Jim Dorman said.

Dorman says he can see the benefits to the activity association's proposal.  With tournaments happening on some school days, it could mean less missed class time for students and perhaps save them money.

"Sometimes girls get a little bit short-changed I think as far as basketball is concerned because if both the boys' team and the girls' team make it into the state tournament, lots of times, because of the expense students have to choose one or the other," Dorman said.

And Dorman recognizes there's another reason for the activities association to start exploring some changes, in fact, $115 million reasons.  The new events center in Sioux Falls could play a part in this discussion.

"I think that anytime that something new like the events center comes up, they have to look at what would be the best for the State of South Dakota.  If you take a look at the demographics, where the population is at, and the facilities, Sioux Falls would be one of the better places to hold some of these things," Dorman says.

But communities that benefit from the tournaments immediately screamed foul at that notion.  The activities association says this play has long been in their playbook.

“You know when the Sioux Falls Arena opened up, when the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center opened up, when the Barnett Center opened up in Aberdeen, the association took a step back and said, 'How can we possibly use that facility down the road and in our future?'  Well, we're doing the same thing here," Carney said.

Carney says holding more events in Sioux Falls and along Interstates 90 and 29 would likely lead to increased ticket sales.  In fact, figures from the activities association show that tournaments in Sioux Falls generally draw in more revenue than when the same event is held in another location.  That revenue is shared with member schools.  The activities association wants to send more money to student athletes, not only in sports being discussed, but revenue increases could help sports like tennis and golf, which do not receive financial support.

"When you get into some of the more expensive sports, we think we can help them and not only the sporting side of it, but particularly the fine arts side of it where we have not been able to financially assist our schools in any way," Carney said.

Tournaments are scheduled in their current form using the current rotation schedule through the 2014-2015 school year.  The activities association is polling school districts and taking input to see where this plan goes.

“We don't want to jump the gun.  We don't want to put a sense of panic out there, but at the same time, we do need to be diligent and continue to stay abreast of what is going on, what's going to be available.  We don't even know if the dates we want are available yet, so it's a long process like you said," Carney said.

But the process is underway and will likely reshape high school athletics in South Dakota, in one way or another.

Prior to unveiling any ideas of the proposal, the activities association looks at other state high school leagues in the region for ideas. It found most other states hold tournaments in just one or two locations.  Also, it found states like Missouri will start one sport season before the other ends.  For example, Missouri basketball practices are underway before the football championships.

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