High School Sports

New format for state golf tourney finalized. Second best no longer good enough.

Lexington Christian’s Laney Frye helped lead the Eagles to the girls’ state golf title last season. Under new rules approved by the KHSAA on Thursday, LCA’s team would not have advanced to state as a regional runner-up.
Lexington Christian’s Laney Frye helped lead the Eagles to the girls’ state golf title last season. Under new rules approved by the KHSAA on Thursday, LCA’s team would not have advanced to state as a regional runner-up.

Last year’s girls’ state team golf champion, Lexington Christian, would not have been in the field if the new rules approved by the KHSAA Board of Control on Thursday were in effect.

After months of public criticism but little official feedback from its member schools, the KHSAA on Thursday eliminated regional runner-ups from the boys’ and girls’ state golf tournaments to reduce the size of the field and improve the pace of play.

What’s the message to LCA and the other three girls’ teams and three boys’ teams who advanced from region runners-up into top-11 finishes last year at state?

“The same thing I would probably say to the second best basketball team in the 11th Region and the second best softball team in the 10th Region: You’ve got to win the region to get there,” KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said after the board’s regular July meeting at Hotel Covington.

Unlike those other team sports, golf competitors have a chance to advance to state as individual qualifiers, the inference being that many on each runner-up team would still be able to go to state for individual glory. The number of individual qualifiers from each region increases from four to seven.

“I think that just shows they’re discrediting the team aspect of golf,” said Paducah attorney Eric Straub, a former high school and college golfer who has spoken for the opponents of the rule changes. “But I think it does provide opportunities for a lot of other individuals to make it to the state tournament. I guess if there was a better option, it was the better of the two.”

In announcing a number of proposed changes to its golf competitions in February, the KHSAA came under fire for its earlier plan to eliminate the fifth team golfer from state competition in order to cut the fields to 144 — down from 156 in the boys’ event and 154 in the girls’.

Thursday’s action preserves the traditional golf-team concept where five golfers play, but only the lowest four scores count toward the total team score. A “four-count’ four” format goes against the “five-count-four” standard used by the NCAA and most other state associations.

Noted Kentucky golfers Justin Thomas and Josh Teater were among those to criticize the original “four-count-four” move on social media, arguing fifth golfers are an integral part of the team experience regardless of whether his/her score counts. The controversy also became a topic on a Golf Channel morning show and on Wednesday was brought before a General Assembly committee by proponents of keeping the status quo or finding another solution.

“The primary issue that the board members heard from outside involved people, was about (not eliminating) the ‘five-to-play-four,’” Tackett said. “They are allowing the fifth player on the team.”

While publicity ran hot on the issue, with Straub and a few others going both to the KHSAA board and even a state legislative committee this week, the KHSAA membership was largely mute on the subject. After its May meeting, the KHSAA presented both its original and the ultimately adopted proposal to every member school. Only 12 of the 247 golf-playing schools responded. The board was also presented letters from Straub and a few others critical of the original proposal.

“They haven’t gotten feedback from a lot of people, but they have gotten a lot of feedback from a few people,” Tackett said of the board. “They read every word of things that were submitted to them. They read every email. But when you’re dealing with stuff like this, somebody’s not going to be happy with the final product.”

LCA Athletics Director Terry Johnson said his school was among those to submit feedback during the process and did not favor eliminating regional runner-up teams, but he recognized the difficulty of the KHSAA’s decision. LCA has also won three boys team state titles, the last coming in 2017.

“It certainly makes the 9th Region (tournament) much more important to each team,” Johnson said.

Thursday’s solution puts the field for both tournaments at 144 players, including the 12 five-player team champions from each region and 84 individual qualifiers. As part of golf’s restructuring this season the girls’ side was divided into 12 regions up from 11 so that the boys and girls each have the same number.

The reduction in the overall field size had become necessary, according to Tackett, because the boys’ and girls’ tournaments have each overrun their allotted schedules a number of times in recent years causing logistical problems for the event organizers and the competing schools.

Status quo was not an option. Period,” Tackett reiterated Thursday.

Under the new rules all 12 teams will play both days of the state tournaments and the new individual competition cut-line after day one increases from 20 and ties to 42 and ties.

Softball semi-state changes

Acknowledging the semi-state the softball tournament locations did not prove equitable from site to site in their first year, the board approved dispensing with the original five-site plan and settling on two sites for 2020.

Regions 1 through 8, roughly representing the western half of the state will play semi-states at one site, while Regions 9 through 16 will compete at the other. The KHSAA plans to pursue the University of Louisville as the west site and the University of Kentucky as the east site, but those agreements have not been finalized.

UK’s John Cropp Stadium is also the current location of the state tournament.

In moving softball from a one-site double-elimination tournament involving 16 teams to a semi-state and state single-elimination format, one of the sweeteners of that change was the promise that the semi-state rounds would be held on college campuses rather than a high school or private site.

Last year’s softball sites included Western Kentucky University, the University of Louisville, Northern Kentucky University, Berea College and Kentucky Christian University. While each field “between the lines” offered excellent conditions for the players, Tackett said, there were substantial differences between the amenities among the sites that generated complaints.

State tennis moves

The board will seek to move the dates of the state tennis tournament to June 1-3 in 2020, running Monday to Wednesday to avoid a conflict with a major junior tournament scheduled the weekend of its original dates.

Tackett told board members he hoped the conflict will be a one-time issue. The date change is contingent on an agreement with the tournament sites.

Football championships

The board approved the schedule for the 2019 state football championship games at Kroger Field.

Friday, Dec. 6 : Class A at 2 p.m.; 3A at 7 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 7: Class 2A at 1 p.m.; 4A at 4:30 p.m.; 5A at 8 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 8: Class 6A at 2 p.m.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader