MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The 2021 WVSSAC state basketball tournaments were going to have a much different look before COVID began to spread twelve months ago. The traditional 4-day, 21-game events have each been expanded to 28 games over five days at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.
The girls basketball tournament is scheduled for April 27-May 1. After a brief two-day break, boys teams will take the court from May 4-8. MetroNews will produce radio broadcasts of all 56 state tournament games and televised broadcasts of all eight championship contests.
The ‘New Class A’ is now comprised of mostly rural schools and WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan expects many new teams and many new fanbases will make their way to Charleston.
“We know there will be lots of new people at the tournament because now we have four classes instead of three,” Dolan said. “We think some of our small schools will really take advantage of being in the tournament and experiencing something new. So I would expect that part to really pick up and people will have a good time with it.”
Due to the pandemic, a new seating structure will be in place at the Coliseum and Convention Center. Fans will be seated in smaller pods with empty seats separating groups. For each session, expected capacity will be around 4,300.
“They’ll be in pods of two but they will be all over the arena. So they will still have the feel of people cheering from all areas. For the players, other than not being jam-packed at times, I think the experience will be great for them.”
Student sections, which normally occupy large blocks behind each basket, will follow similar seating arrangements.
“It might look like a striping in the student section. It might be every other one, going up like a zig zag. We still think we can get a large number of students in that student section. We think that, outside the players, for the students at the school, this is a big deal. We want to make sure they have that experience also.”
With the new five-day schedule, half of the Class AA quarterfinals will be played on Tuesday. Those winning teams would be idle until Friday’s early session in the semifinals. Dolan says those teams winning on Tuesday could return home for the two days in between games.
“Every school will be different. Do they want to stay in that atmosphere? But on the other hand if they are home, they probably have more control over keeping their kids safe and being able to practice without much distraction. The Tuesday-Friday might be a benefit for some schools. But I do think it will go both ways, some will stay, some might go home.”
Playoffs near as COVID cases in schools increase
Girls basketball sectional tournaments can begin as early as April 10 and the boys will follow on April 17. An increasing number of basketball teams across the state are on pause due to positive COVID cases or potential exposures from opponents. Dolan says scheduling flexibility could be used in the early rounds of the playoffs (sectionals and regionals) if teams are coming back off of pauses.
“Obviously, it is a high concern right now. Not just because of the games but because of the outbreaks that are at the schools. We hope the schools can get that under control. For our athletes, I would expect the coaches to really emphasize safety precautions between now and the end of the year. And they should reiterate that even when you are not at practice or on the bus, when you are doing things out and about, make sure you are still following the same guidelines. Somewhere, they are contracting it and bringing it into the schools.”
Dolan added that if a team qualifies for the state tournament but is later unable to compete due to COVID protocols, it is unlikely that another team would be inserted to complete the eight-team field. He cited consistency with other previously-completed sports seasons as the main reason for not ‘backfilling’ the field.
The state cheerleading championships were completed on March 20, bringing the fall sports season to a close. Seven winter and spring sports championships will be contested over a span of ten weeks, starting with swimming on April 20.
“In a couple weeks, it will be tournament time from now until the end of June.”