The South Carolina Warriors learned Tuesday they will get a bye in the American Basketball Association playoffs.
However, it wasn’t the bye they coveted.
In a new playoff system that rewards the top four teams with weighted byes, South Carolina wound up with a free pass into the Elite Eight – not the Final Four – despite being ranked No. 2 in the league’s power rankings a good bit of the season.
The defending national champion Jacksonville (Fla.) Giants and North Dallas Vandals earned the Final Four byes, while the San Diego Surf joined the Warriors – who ended the season ranked third – with an automatic entrance into the Elite Eight.
“It’s been a little bit of a politic thing between us and the league – nothing earth-shattering,” Warriors general council Marshall Biddle said. “We just had a disagreement about how they’re doing it. They’re the league so they get to make that decision.”
North Dallas leaped South Carolina in the power rankings late in the season. ABA CEO Joe Newman stood by his decision, vaguely explaining the league’s stance in an email.
“[South Carolina] is a very good team and its record might justify a No. 2 position. However, there were other factors involved in making them No. 3 and their loss of an automatic bye into the Final Four,” Newman wrote. “I do not want to get into specifics; they are not happy, but sometimes things happen that do not make you happy. If they are a Final Four contender, with a bye into the second round – they should end up in Florida anyway.”
The Warriors did so last year, when they made it all the way to the best-of-three finals, where they lost to Jacksonville in two games after winning the Mid-Atlantic and National Division championships. In last year’s format, South Carolina had to play its way through the brackets into the finals.
Newman said teams hosting the Elite Eight round will have the option of playing games either March 23-24 or March 30-31. Hosts will be determined by seeding and travel logistics, he said. The Final Four will be held in Jacksonville in April.
Newman said it is very possible the Warriors could wind up being a host in the Elite Eight.
However, the situation is still unsettling for Warriors coach John Kefalas.
“It’s tough to tell kids who bust their chops all year that we’re not getting a bye and not one of the top two teams and [we might have to] go on the road,” he said.
The Warriors finished the season 28-1, with their lone loss coming to Jacksonville (29-1). North Dallas went 20-2, including a win over Jacksonville in December. San Diego, fifth in the final rankings, went 12-3.
“I told Joe Newman that we would play through the play-ins, but we would do it under protest,” Biddle said.
The Warriors will have about two to three weeks before they play another game. Kefalas said his team’s preparation won’t be affected by the playoff positioning.
“I’ve been in this a long time. I’ll get them up for games,” Kefalas said. “My main thing is the kids; whatever happened with Marshall and the CEO of our league should not affect me and my players. It has affected us, but it’s not fair. Didn’t we earn our position?”
Contact DAVID WETZEL at 626-0295.