The redistricting issue is one we have looked at pretty intently over the last couple of years, Joseph. Believe me, as Hoover's coach, I'm well aware of the death trap potential at District, and the chance that a bad pool draw, like the one we had this year, can leave a team that is very worthy of moving on and would have almost certainly made the state tourney (Altamont, in this case) out in the cold.
The main issue with redistricting is that our state's teams are just not geographically diverse. The South, for example, has a massive area with relatively sparse representation and much more spacing between teams, while the North has very large clusters of teams around Huntsville, and the Central region has a similar large cluster around Birmingham. Thus, when we draw the districts, we end up with something that looks like a line at the Montgomery level that divides the state, which marks off one district, and then we have a central area, a Northeast, and a North Central/West. Doing that ROUGHLY puts the same number of active teams in each segment of the map, which is really important if we want to make sure that there is some geographic diversity in the meets.
Additionally troublesome is the fact that the disparity between "power" teams and regular teams is much more pronounced outside of the two major city centers of Huntsville and Birmingham than it is within those areas. What I mean by that is that the dropoff from Arab or Russellville to smaller teams in their grouping is generally much larger than it is from, say, Spain Park to Pelham or Oak Mountain. The ability of the teams in the Bham/Huntsville group to move up in the pack--as Oak Mountain has done in the past few years, for example, or Spain Park, while Indian Springs has faded--is significantly higher. This is partly a function of coaches being static and largely unpaid in the smaller communities, where they really have no motivation to continue as sponsor if doing so takes up more of their time. The kids in smaller schools are also generally involved in more activities at a leadership level (fewer kids=smaller potential pool to draw on), and so they have more obligations that limit their SB time, while they also have less funding to cope with.
That's not to say the situation can't be overcome--Lee certainly did that at Brindlee Mountain, creating a team that was in the top three in Alabama for at least four years, maybe more, in a location where he had no business being able to pull that off. He had some remarkable talent to work with, but more importantly, he WANTED to do it, and so he put in long hours and weekends galore to make it happen, and the kids wanted it too. Then the success began, and the team got some momentum, and it snowballed nicely. Still, that sort of success story is too rare in our state, and we are working on ways to overcome that obstacle with financial assistance and more opportunities to play for reduced or no cost.
The seeding and wildcard program we use at this point in ASCA is also meant to address this issue, and as Lee said, it at least makes sure that the teams that are deserving get an opportunity to play at state, even if they don't make it out of their region because of difficulty of pool. Having 8 spots for state wildcards also means that we can guarantee a spot for at least four teams from each region at the state final, and that those teams will have needed to play at least a few other teams they will see again at state to get to that point.
We are open to suggestions about how to deal with the problems of districts and regionals. We are limited, however, by the mandate we have to serve the state scholars bowl community, many of whom will, for example, refuse to travel more than an hour to compete. Multiple teams backed out of regionals at the last minute this year. That's very frustrating, both for the organizers who have to reset everything, and for teams that would have gotten a chance to come if they had been notified in time that the team ahead of them had pulled out. Add to that the irritation of dealing with the need to cancel districts and regionals at the slightest hint of bad weather, and you get a mess that is very, very hard to clean up.
I have looked into the possibility of eliminating districts altogether at the Varsity level, much as we do in MS and JV, and going straight to a set of four large regional tournaments. This would not entirely eliminate stacked districts, but at least it would mean that teams would play more rounds to determine if they advance to state, and a larger pool would be present to create variation. Another proposal under consideration would allow teams to register to compete at the district or regional site of their choice, with deadlines and caps until sites filled up. This would let teams that were willing to be more flexible to pick a site that isn't as badly stacked, and should, by extension, lead to better distribution of teams around the state. Such a solution, however, seriously favors the more wealthy teams or larger schools with access to travel range, and so we have to come up with a check/balance system if we consider that.
Any input on this would be welcome. I personally am happy to see change continue.
Coach, Hoover High School, Hoover, AL