THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: In search of the elusive ‘right’ format for the postseason

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North Idaho College seems like such an ideal, centralized neutral location for the region’s high school basketball district tournaments.

Christianson Gymnasium — or Rolly Williams Court, if you prefer — offers a cozy, festive atmosphere no matter who’s playing, or at what level.

Plus, it was good publicity for NIC, getting high school kids to visit its campus.

Area high school leagues obviously liked the idea as well.

YEARS AGO, the North Star League brought its 1A Division II District 1 tournament to NIC. Likewise the Intermountain League with its 3A District 1 tourney, creating at least two nights — sometimes more — of tripleheaders, which was a smorgasboard for hoops junkies.

The 1As eventually took their tourney elsewhere, but then the 4A Inland Empire League brought its Region 1 tournaments to NIC, teaming with the 3As for more tripleheaders.

These days, for a variety of reasons, leagues are taking their state-qualifying tournaments to other neutral sites — or to the home of the higher seed.

Last year, only the 4As remained at NIC — for a while, anyway. The loser-out game between the second and third seed was played there, as was Game 1 of the best-of-3 champion series between the top seed and the winner of the 2-3 game.

This year, all the 4A regional tournament games will be played at the higher seed — with one caveat.

“NIC was a good run, but has not been cost-effective the last couple of years,” Sandpoint High athletic director Kris Knowles said.

Plus, the 4As wanted to make the league standings mean even more.

Under the current format, the loser-out game will be at the home of the No. 2 seed, and the top-seeded team will host the first game of the best-of-3 championship series.

And the winner of Game 1 will host Game 2, and the winner of Game 2 would host Game 3, if necessary — unless the top seed went undefeated in league. In that case, that team would host each game of the championship series.

Under the old format — well, at least the one used in recent years — Game 1 of the championship series was at NIC, meaning the lower-seeded team could steal home court with a victory in Game 1 at a neutral site, and the top-seeded team could conceivably never host a tournament game.

It sounds funky, but it make sense as far as giving the league season added meaning.

Years ago, the 4A IEL tried a true double-elimination tourney — which sounded fair in theory.

But in reality, with all the loser-out games, Lakeland (or Sandpoint) would make so many bus trips to Moscow in such a short amount of time, some of the farm animals along U.S. 95 likely began to recognize the teams as they rolled by at the same time each afternoon.

Then, in the early days of playing at NIC, the 4A regional consisted of just two games — No. 3 vs. No. 2 in a loser-out, with the winner facing the top seed in the championship game. Not much margin for error for the top seed, as there is usually just one berth to state awarded to 4A Region 1.

“I loved the tournament atmosphere and neutral site as well, but sometimes things change,” Knowles said. “I hope we can look at doing something like that again, but for now we will go to home sites.”

OTHER THAN the one year the roof leaked at Coeur d’Alene High, and they moved the regional title game to NIC, the 5As have stayed with school sites.

There were years, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when there was just one IEL consisting of Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Lewiston and Moscow, the regional site rotated between the four schools.

Way, way back in the early 1980s, when the IEL was just Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint and Lewiston, the second and third seeds played a best-of-3 series, with that winner playing the top seed in another best-of-3 series for the championship.

Then, for a few years when Lake City opened in 1994, it was a five-team regional tourney. Then Sandpoint and Moscow dropped to 4A, and the 5A IEL was a three-team league, trying to figure things out like the 4A IEL is now.

When Post Falls moved up to 5A, all four teams played the first night at the home of the No. 1 seed in hopes of creating a tournament atmosphere, then the higher seeds hosted the rest of the way. But in recent years, all games have been played at the home of the higher seed.

So in the meantime, leagues are open to trying different formats, hoping to settle on the “right” one.

At least for now.

“It’s never pretty or perfect in a three-team league,” said Knowles, who formerly coached at Lake City. “We had the same issues back in the day, with Lake City, Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston as a three-team league.”

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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