Tiebreakers suck. A perfect tiebreaker is a one-off game on a neutral court. But that doesn’t often happen, especially in Division III. That’s why basketball ends up deciding tiebreakers with a literal coin flip.
The thing is, some coin tosses don’t mean much. The opening coin toss in an NFL game just decides who gets to start with the ball or which end a team starts at.
But a coin toss to decide who gets the No. 1 seed in the playoffs? That’s a different story.
Basketball is a game where home court advantage means everything. In Chapman and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’ (CMS) two games this season, both home teams won. Allowing a coin to provide a considerable advantage in the championship game is to say, “We can’t think of a better way to do this, so let’s just flip a coin.”
The Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) does have two tiebreakers before resorting to a coin toss. It first looks at head-to-head matchups before looking at results against other teams in order of record. But when two teams, like Chapman and CMS, have identical conference records, there is no third tiebreaker.
“I think they need to do a different way, like point differential or something,” said women’s basketball head coach Carol Jue.
The conference could take points scored, points allowed or point differential into account. The logic behind not using points scored or allowed as a tiebreaker is that it rewards running up the score and doesn’t really mean anything in terms of which team is more deserving of winning the tiebreaker. In theory, it rewards style of play rather than quality of play.
But Jue has a point. Considering point differential is a more logical tiebreaker than a coin toss. Sure, it rewards scoring, but it rewards defense too. It’s not ideal, but if you’re constantly blowing teams out, that should count for something.
Had point differential been used as the third tiebreaker, Chapman would have been the No. 1 seed, scoring 252 points more than it allowed, compared to CMS’s 181.
Just imagine you work nearly every single day in practice. Running, sweating, maybe even vomiting from exertion.
You win every single conference game. You’ve got the 10th-longest winning streak in Division III basketball. And then you lose for the first time in nearly two months.
You feel like you’re the better team. You know you’re the better team. But now it’s out of your hands, and into those of conference executive director Jennifer Dubow, who flips the coin.
She goes to a private location with Jue and CMS head coach Kristen Dowling. The coaches return, and suddenly, you’re the No. 2 seed. If Dowling had thrown the coin just a little bit higher, maybe you’d be the No. 1 seed. Now, that hope is gone.
If you win the first game of the tournament, you’re coming right back to CMS’s Roberts Pavilion in two weeks.
It’s hard to see that as a positive when there’s an undeniable psychological advantage for CMS. It’s a team that has given Chapman hell for the last two years, and now they’ll have the home crowd behind them in the championship game.
Chapman won 15 games in a row. But without that 16th game, they’re the No. 2 seed, and all because a coin didn’t fall their way.
In theory, a coin toss is fair. But it rewards luck, not accomplishments on the court. So just because it’s technically “fair,” doesn’t mean it’s the right way to decide seeding.