HELENA -- Class AA will have state basketball tournaments after all.
The Montana High School Association executive board announced Friday it had approved Class AA's request to overturn its previous request for state playoffs. Class AA will instead play state tournaments March 10-13 at Great Falls.
Last month, the MHSA executive board approved a request made by Class AA administrators to opt out of holding a state tournament in March. That request would have had Class AA basketball teams competing in a playoff format similar to what the classification used to determine its volleyball state champion in the fall. However, Class AA officials reconsidered that decision and ultimately walked back the request.
"At the time last week, (Class AA administrators) had met and said that they would like to do the playoff format all the way through, so single-loss (playoffs) through the divisional and then seed in and do a single-loss playoff format through the state tournament. They then met again and reconsidered with their (athletic directors). They approved a tournament format for state," said MHSA executive director Mark Beckman, who also explained that each classification was able to choose between two postseason formats established by the MHSA executive board. One format uses a single-elimination playoff system with games played at team sites like Class AA used for football, soccer and volleyball in the fall. The other format follows the traditional tournament process typically used to crown basketball champions. However, that format, because of COVID-19, now requires a "compete-clear-clean" protocol where teams and their fans must leave the arena and the arena must be cleaned before the next game's teams and fans are allowed to enter.
"They picked one of our two options to begin with and then decided that they would like to go with the second option, which is fine," Beckman added.
According to Bozeman athletic director Mark Ator, the decision to compete in single-elimination playoffs was originally made in December after Class AA had successfully navigated the fall sports season.
"Then when we got closer (to the basketball postseason) the thoughts of having a tournament came up and then in our last meeting last week, the tournament was brought up again," Ator said. "The problem was, we didn’t have a lot of information at the time of how the protocols and what essentially Great Falls and the Four Seasons Arena were going to do, what the format would look like. With all the questions and still concerns about safety, the vote was to stay with the playoff format."
The wheels to play out tournaments were already in motion, though. There was some public backlash -- an online petition circulated by parents gained traction and athletic directors did receive phone calls and emails from parents and coaches -- but Ator said that process wasn't nearly as contentious as it played out on social media.
As more information became available to Class AA athletic directors, the conversation to play a tournament grew louder. The ADs met on Monday and ultimately decided to play the state tournaments as originally scheduled. The tournaments will be played March 10-13 at Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. The Class A, Class B and Class C state tournaments will be played the same weekend at Butte, Billings and Bozeman, respectively.
Class AA will still use playoffs instead of divisional tournaments, which were only recently added to the classification's format. The one-game divisional playoffs will likely be played March 4-6 with the higher seed hosting. The No. 1 seed will host the No. 8 seed, the No. 2 seed will host the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed will host the No. 6 seed and the No. 4 seed will host the No. 5 seed. That will be the case in both the Eastern AA and Western AA, with the winners advancing to the state tournaments.
The MHSA executive board also announced Friday it had approved the State AA wrestling meet to be held at Kalispell Flathead on March 5-6. The State A meet will be in Miles City and the State B/C meet in Shelby the same dates.
"(Class AA is) not going to do a seeding divisional tournament really and they’re just going to take a couple more kids to state than they normally would," Beckman said. "It worked out good. The numbers were within the limitations and so Kalispell Flathead was awarded the state tournament."
The Class A-B swim meet will now officially be held at Polson on March 6 after the MHSA executive board gave final approval after granting tentative approval in January, pending approval of county public health officials.