TORII STATION, Okinawa — Far East high school sports tournaments will be shortened by up to two days and athletes per team trimmed by at least one as part of a series of changes that will transform the way DODDS Pacific state championship tournaments are staged.
The changes, announced Friday, will start with February’s Far East wrestling and basketball tournaments.
They are part of an effort to hold down costs, bring Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific in line with DODDS-Europe and cut missed class time, said Far East athletics coordinator Don Hobbs and DODDS-Pacific spokesman Charly Hoff.
The changes have nothing to do with possible automatic budget cuts that could be enacted at year’s end, Hoff said, but are part of the “normal budgeting pressures” DODDS-Pacific faces.
“We don’t have as much money this year as in past years, per se,” Hoff said.
He and Hobbs did not provide specific figures, nor indicate how much money DODDS-Pacific was asked to cut from its athletics program budget. No tournaments will be cut entirely, they said.
Though DODDS-Pacific won't spend less on airline tickets, it is expected to see savings from paying less per diem to coaches and staff and fewer days of having substitutes in the classroom for those on TDY. It should also save some money paid to referees if there are fewer games to officiate and they'll be less work for support staff on site as well.
Money is just part of what Hoff called the “big picture,” which includes the disparity in formats between DODDS-Pacific and DODDS-Europe tournaments and the time DODDS student athletes spend outside of class. DODDS-Europe tournaments are typically held over three days; some Pacific tournaments last six days.
No similar cuts to high school sports in DODDS-Europe were currently planned, said DODDS-Europe spokesman Bob Purtiman. “As of right now, there is no effect on the European athletic program,” he said Friday.
The Pacific changes will be “good for kids,” Hoff said. “When they move from (Pacific to Europe), they’ll have a consistent experience. We’re trying to balance the academics, too. Many students participate in multiple sports. If we can shave off a day or two, students can be in class more often.”
This is the first major change to DODDS-Pacific’s interscholastic athletics program since 2010, when it added baseball, softball, and track and field to the spring tournament lineup. It’s also the first major reduction to the program since all tournaments were canceled in the 1980-81 school year due to budget cuts.
Hobbs said he hoped to have an updated Far East tournament schedule for winter and spring by Monday.
The biggest change to basketball, softball, baseball and soccer tournaments will be cutting pool play, Hobbs said. That’s been a staple of Far East tournaments since 1987, used to help seed teams into the elimination-playoff rounds that followed.
“It takes too long,” Hobbs said. “It throws in a couple of extra days.”
DODDS-Europe tournaments typically use pool play to eliminate much of the field, with only the top teams from each pool advancing to quarterfinals or semifinals. Pacific pools are used traditionally to seed all teams for further play.
Coaches and current and former student athletes reacted with anger and dismay to the news. Some questioned whether the changes would amount to significant savings.
DODDS pays for the student-athletes to fly from home to tournament locations, “the students pay for their rooms and food, so it’s not like the school is spending extra money on that,” said former Guam High soccer player Trevor Cheatham. “I can’t imagine that one or two days would reduce the cost of a plane ticket by all that much.”
Others worried about the effect on athletes competing in a tighter timeframe.
Wrestling had been expanded four years ago from three days to four because “so many wrestlers were getting hurt,” said Yokota wrestling coach Brian Kitts. “We added a fourth day for safety and increased the regular season a week this year. Now, we’ll be in the gym for 12 to 13 hours, the kids will be exhausted.”
Kadena girls soccer coach Ed Thompson offered an alternative: “I’d rather take less per diem and stay the extra day and leave the format as is, and I’m sure the other coaches would agree.”
All tournaments can feature the same number of teams, Hobbs said, meaning a maximum of 16 per D-I and 12 per D-II tournament. How teams will be seeded into the double-elimination tournaments has yet to be determined, he said.
The football format — in which all D-I and all D-II inter-district teams play each other for the top two spots in each division — will not change, Hobbs said.
Asked if there could be a return to six- and five-day tournaments at some point, Hobbs said: “It can be revisited. We’re going to assume that these (changes) will be for this year and we’ll use this as a baseline for future years.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Jennifer H. Svan contributed to this report.