Time for a rotating tournament schedule

Well, it’s happened again. Regional tournament officials in Riverton have manipulated the brackets to “accommodate” the fans of the Wyoming Indian Chiefs and the Wind River Cougars – giving the two Fremont County schools first-round games at the Riverton High School Gym, rather than at the smaller Central Wyoming College Gym, where the two were originally scheduled to play.

It happens almost every year. No matter how they finish, the Chiefs and Cougars are awarded the larger, “nicer” RHS Gym for their games, forcing other schools to the smaller CWC Gym.

When brackets first came out two or three weeks ago, it looked like the Lovell Bulldogs would play in Thursday night’s final round at RHS as the number one seed from the Northwest.

Then the Chiefs lost a coin flip to Kemmerer and tournament officials started scratching their heads. Not only did they move Wyoming Indian to the “big gym,” they moved Wind River, too. So top Southwest seed Kemmerer was forced to the smaller gym to allow Wyoming Indian and their legion of fans to use the RHS Gym, and top Northwest seed Lovell was also banished to CWC for their game against Big Piney – giving Wind River the primo venue.

It isn’t fair, and it isn’t right.

The moves affect the boys bracket only. Apparently, there aren’t as many Fremont County girls basketball fans to worry about, though officials initially looked at switching up the girls bracket, too.

Now, to be fair, the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies will benefit from the switch, getting to play Wind River at Riverton High School. But that’s not the point. The very same switch affected the Grizzlies a couple of years ago, coach Michael Simmons said, forcing them to move to the Riverton Middle School Gym when they originally had a game scheduled for RHS. He has firmly stated his opposition to the annual moves.

This is all being done in the name of the fire code, safety and not having to turn people away at the door. But what it really amounts to is catering to Fremont County schools.

If Riverton cannot handle the tournament crowds, then the tournament should be moved, but this is unlikely because what it really boils down to is money. Wyoming High School Activities Association officials like the gate receipts that the big crowds bring. But is this about money or what’s best for the student athletes?

Riverton is a great community and accommodates the tournament well. It’s centrally located, the town has good restaurants and hotels, and fans love to run out to the casino. But city officials should be alarmed that these annual bracket shenanigans may well force the tournament out of town, at least on a rotating basis. The topic is coming up more and more frequently in athletic director meetings.

We propose a rotating schedule, moving the tournament annually among Rock Springs, Riverton and Powell. Give the Big Horn Basin a chance to prove that it can provide large crowds, too. With the new Powell High School facility and Northwest College, Powell would be a good spot for the tournament. And for once, our local fans wouldn’t have to shell out $80 to $120 a night for a motel room, and our teams could sleep in their own beds at tournament time, a benefit Fremont County athletes enjoy year after year after year.

Is there a competitive advantage for Fremont County schools? That’s difficult to gauge, and Big Horn County teams have more than held their own in hostile environments over the years. But fair is fair, and manipulating brackets to suit local schools stinks. Let’s give Rock Springs and Powell a shot at the tournament.

The Big Horn Basin is a basketball hotbed, filled with fans who would be as likely to fill gyms for a tournament in Powell as Fremont County fans in Riverton do now. In fact, we would argue that, Wyoming Indian aside, there are more “basketball towns” in the Big Horn Basin than in Central Wyoming.

But of course we won’t know until we try it. It is high time to take a good, solid look at a rotating regional schedule. We urge our Big Horn County schools to work with Southwest Wyoming schools to vote in such a schedule.

It’s the right thing to do.

–David Peck