The PAL Basketball Tournament, which was played before the beginning of section playoffs over the last 20 years for San Mateo County superiority, will not be returning in the 2019-20, league commissioner Terry Stogner confirmed in an email.
Athletic directors voted to end the tournament, with the tightly-packed schedule serving as the main impetus to end the event. With the new condensed schedule that took effect in the 2018-19 season, the tournament, which had welcomed between eight and 16 teams in previous editions, was reduced to a two-day event, with just four teams apiece on both the boys and girls sides, playing before sparse crowds on a Monday and Tuesday.
“Between league play and the postseason, it was just too much. A couple of years ago, we had a key injury to Will Beasley in the tournament that helped prematurely end our season,” Menlo-Atherton head coach Mike Molieri said. “Personally, I was hoping we could just do it with the top two teams because so many of the early-round games were blowouts.”
Competitive balance had been an issue in the tournament in recent years, with teams from the South Division blowing out North Division counterparts. No North team had won the tournament since 2013, and at least one game finished with a running clock in each of the past four years and five of the past six.
The lack of at least a championship game between the North and South is an issue that has created frustration among much of the league, though.
“It’s a tournament that I know everyone looks forward to and it’s too bad it won’t happen,” Half Moon Bay head coach John Parsons said. “I know all of our players look forward to competing against the South and they’ll be very disappointed. It gave a single PAL team a championship. Our kids grow up playing against all of them in middle school and summer ball and there was always the anticipation that we might see them in the tournament.”
For Half Moon Bay, a Division IV school, hopes of seeing any team from the South in the postseason have now been almost completely dashed, save for an occasional possible run-in with Capuchino in the years when the Mustangs are on the Division IV side of the enrollment cutoff. The alternative is to simply schedule non-league games against opponents from the other division, and while that has been a common occurrence for ages, those games are typically played on December weeknights in empty gyms, save for a few coaches scouting.
One other possibility is to expand the PAL North-South challenge, an event that Capuchino hosted in December 2017. The two-day showcase had four teams, and a return could draw some attention and allow teams to play some of the competition from the other division. Still, it would need to be played in December, when teams are still finding their place and when some rosters are incomplete due to football teams making postseason runs.
The other casualty of the PAL Tournament’s end will be the absence of extra games that helped teams bolster their playoff resumes. The tournament didn’t count against the 24 regular season games that teams were limited to, meaning PAL teams would enter the section tournament with up to three additional games.
“I hate to see the end of the PAL Tournament,” said Burlingame head coach Jeff Dowd, the winningest coach in the tournament’s history. “It was a great tuneup for CCS and it generated a lot of excitement in our league. It gave the teams in the middle of the divisions hope.”
From 2013 to 2018, when the tournament was an eight-team affair, the fourth-placed teams in each division were the last ones in, giving extra meaning to end-of season games for teams in the middle of the pack. In some years, teams that didn’t qualify for the CCS Tournament were able to squeak into the PAL field, fighting to stay alive with the slim hopes of winning the league tourney.
One of the other things lost with the end of the tournament was the event’s status as a jamboree and summit for the entire league. With the All-League Teams presented between the boys and girls games, the semifinals and championship game brought representatives from all 17 of the league’s teams together, with coaches mingling and discussing potential CCS seeding for their teams. Now, that will be reduced to the end-of-season coaches’ meeting, which takes place behind closed doors.