Obviously in the perfect world, a program would rather win the league, win the sectional, and make a special tournament run all in one year. This week, SVC Sports Talk is asking the question: If you could only have one…which would you prefer? Would you rather have the gratification of going through the entire year and coming out as the league champion, or would you rather lose out on a league title if it meant making a long tournament run?
Like so many topics in sports, this is a tough question to answer without asking some other questions. First, some people want to know more about the league title. Is it considered a great league that year? Is it a co-championship or an outright title? Is it a gold ball, or is it a year where a three-loss team won the title? The tournament success works the same way. When the phrase “tournament run” is used, is it meaning sectional title? District title? Regional title? State title? Does the length of the tournament run even matter, or is the league title the answer no matter what the case?
I think expectations within each athletic program can play a role. If a school has won a lot of league titles, perhaps a long tournament run to the regional or state would be more coveted. On the other hand, if a school has only won a few league titles in the last 15 years – and perhaps never in a particular sport, then I believe that league title would be more desirable.
I believe the sport as well as the perception of that sport can play a role in this debate. In a sport that does not get as much media coverage, perhaps a team would rather make a long tournament run to draw more attention to their program. It could also be a situation where history is involved in one or the other. Take SVC volleyball for example. With the amazing run that Adena has been on during the past two decades, it is possible that a team would rather be the team that ends their win streak and captures an SVC title even if it meant an early exit in the sectional tournament.
Football is also a separate discussion. First, it is tough to make the playoffs without winning the league, but it has obviously happened several times under the current playoff format. Would you rather win the league and not make the playoffs, or not win the league, make Week 11, and get beat bad in the first round? How about finishing second in the league, but then making Week 13?
I think this is where size of school can come into play. You see some bigger schools that might win the league, but then get beat earlier in the tournament where they play in a higher division. You also see the other extreme. You see a smaller school finish middle-of-the-pack and then go into the Division IV tournament and make a run at a district title. It is also possible that a key injury in the league has taken place that perhaps cost a team a chance to win the league, but they get healthy and become primed to make a postseason run.
I have heard some coaches say that the tournament is a true test of how well a team is playing at the end of the year. All coaches want their team to improve throughout the year, and they feel a tournament run illustrates that very thing. Now, before you just dismiss this idea, you better look at this from another angle. You know as well as I do, if a team wins the league title and then gets beat in the sectional that most average fans (and even some area players and coaches) will look at that season as ending in a failure. People will throw out words like choke or overrated.
I am not sure that I can answer just one way for every situation. I do feel the league champion truly shows the best team. The SVC is a league where every team is forced to play all league opponents, and in our double-round sports, that includes making a trip to everyone’s home turf. Upsets can happen in the postseason and often times in today’s tournament format even a league champion can have a tough road to the district tournament.
It is also hard to turn down that special postseason run. I know when teams become the only SVC team left that they start to steal the media coverage, and their communities really start to take notice of what they are doing. They start getting some special things done for them throughout the week, and it really sparks an interest in the younger levels of their program.
In today’s results-driven society it is definitely better to have your cake and eat it too which would mean a league title preceding that special tournament run; however, if I had to pick between one, I guess I can’t do it. I guess my answer depends on too many things to have one consistent opinion for every scenario that exists.