Is a bird in the hand really worth two in the bush? It kind of depends if one of the birds in the bush is your own.
For the second year in a row, the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team is doing so well there is a good chance an NCAA Division II regional tournament can be hosted here. That’s great news for the Tigers, currently 18-2 and ranked seventh in the nation, as home-court advantage means even more in postseason play.
It is not-so-great news for prep teams in Class 1A Division I who might have been looking forward to playing in Gross Memorial Coliseum. Hays was scheduled to host this year’s state basketball tournament March 9 to 12 — the same weekend as the NCAA regional.
As neither tourney can be thrown together at the last minute, decision time was this week. FHSU had a choice: Accept the sure thing and invite the top 16 high school teams here, or send them to Dodge City and reserve the space for eight collegiate teams in case the Tigers earn the option to host.
“The logistics and lead time in staging a successful state tournament necessitate a decision which is in the best interest of Fort Hays State University and the member schools of the KSHSAA, be made now,” said Kansas State High School Activities Association Executive Director Gary Musselman.
There is good reason to believe FHSU will be the highest-ranked squad when the venue is chosen for the March 10 to 14 regional. Including tonight’s game against Central Missouri, the Tigers have eight regular-season contests remaining. All are rematches against teams Fort Hays has beat this season, other than Southwest Baptist.
The Tigers’ two losses have been by a total of three points. While arguably not as dominant as last year’s squad, the 2015-16 team is playing very well. They are chasing Missouri Western State University, which beat the Tigers by two points last month. The Griffons are 19-2, a half-game up on Fort Hays in the MIAA but two spots behind in the national poll. Also still in the mix are Pittsburg State and Emporia State, although ESU apparently decided it would turn down an offer to host the regional in favor of an already-committed Class 4A Division II state basketball tournament.
With all of the moving parts and a judgment call to be made, FHSU President Mirta Martin and the athletic department opted to put their faith in the home team.
“We greatly value our relationships with Kansas high schools and with the KSHSAA,” Martin said in a press release, “and we look forward to hosting all types of high school events in the future, but obviously our first loyalty must be to our own student-athletes.”
While we can’t argue with the logic, we hope the Tigers finish strong. Should another school land the regional, there will be no tournament basketball of any kind at GMC come the second weekend in March. Hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other retailers who’ve grown used to the influx of teams and followers at that time each year since 1974 will notice the absence.
That is a lot of pressure for the young women wearing black and gold. Judging by their performance thus far this season, Coach Tony Hobson’s players are up for the task. They’ll also have the support and encouragement of the entire community.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry