Depending on your perspective, the 4A Metro crossover tournaments have represented the best or worst of the league’s short-lived existence as a 16-team conglomeration.
The crossover tournaments pit the top four teams from each of the league’s randomly split eight-team divisions and play a three-round single-elimination tournament for the title (there are consolation games to ensure everyone gets three games, but a title can’t be won with a loss).
Under this setup, the first seven games of the league season determine little more than seeding. Teams can certainly hurt themselves by falling out of the top four and thus missing the upper bracket, but they can only help themselves so much.
“It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Cheyenne Mountain baseball coach Mark Swope said before the season.
Considering what happened last year, it’s easy to understand Swope’s perspective.
The Indians romped through their division unchallenged, winning all seven by the average score of 15-2. But in the first round of the crossover, tricky left-hander Adam Settle of Coronado pitched the Cougars to a 6-5 upset.
The Indians were forced to play out the string for fifth place, winning the next two by the combined score of 31-9. So, despite going 9-1 in league games and posting an absurd run differential, when the 4A Metro submitted its final order for the state brackets the Indians were fifth in line. As a result, they were seeded 23rd for the state tournament that they eventually won.
“You could have a team that could go 16-0 and be the No. 1 team in the state, but if they have to face a kid like we did last year (Settle), if they run into a buzzsaw and that guy beats you and you still win your next two games and are 18-1 and still No. 2 in the state, the best you could be seeded is fifth out of this league,” Swope said.
Swope never complained about missing out on a league title, realizing his team lost fair and square. But to seed it 23rd at state was not only ridiculous but also proved unfair to its opponents in the first two rounds, who should have earned the right to face lesser competition and instead were matched up with a program on the way to its second title in three years.
The Indians could face a similar situation this year, opening crossover play as an unbeaten No. 1 seed. On Tuesday they host a dangerous Palmer Ridge squad that was also a part of the state final four a year ago.
This will all be a moot point next year, when the league splits into separate eight-team entities.
Still, flawed though it may be, the crossover tournaments won’t leave a negative legacy in the eyes of many.
The tournaments were conceived out of necessity, as the league is too big for all teams to face each other in most sports and it wouldn’t have been feasible to tailor schedules to ensure that the top contenders would all meet during the season – no one was willing or able to make those predictions.
Under this format, the teams could play a set schedule and then the best of the best can fight it out on the field. And, for the most part, that’s how it’s worked over the past two years.
Air Academy and Cheyenne Mountain met in a pair of exquisite games to determine the boys’ soccer championships, Cheyenne Mountain and Coronado faced off in this year’s volleyball league final just weeks before meeting again in the state championship game and this week’s girls’ soccer semifinals present a couple of sterling matchups as Air Academy goes to Cheyenne Mountain and Lewis-Palmer and Palmer Ridge will meet up at Don Breese Stadium.
Yes, the format has its weaknesses (it’s tough to come up with a perfect solution to anything that involves 16 teams). But there were highlights, and many are surely still to come as this format enters its final week.