Updated: Tourism bureau, UI want basketball back
CHAMPAIGN — IHSA, come on back.
Visit Champaign County, the local tourism bureau, and the University of Illinois will submit a bid to the Illinois High School Association to host the annual state high school basketball championships, the visitors bureau director said Tuesday.
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The IHSA board, which oversees high school sports in Illinois, announced Monday it would accept bids from cities that want to host from 2016 through 2020.
"As a person who's proud of our area, I don't think you could find a better venue than the State Farm Center," said Jayne DeLuce, CEO of Visit Champaign County. "Peoria has done a good job, but with the renovation of State Farm Center, it lends itself to having the right amenities for the tournament," she said.
DeLuce added that the economic benefit would substantial if Champaign is able to secure the basketball championships.
The boys' tournament is held each March in Peoria and the girls' tournament is held at Illinois State University in Normal.
For more than seven decades the championship basketball games were played on the University of Illinois campus, first in Kenney Gym, followed by Huff Hall and later in the Assembly Hall. The last time they were held here was in 1995, when, in a stunning blow to the community, they moved to Peoria.
"It's been a long time," DeLuce said.
"Peoria is going to want to keep it, and probably some other cities in Illinois will bid," she said.
There's also been talk about holding the tournament in the Chicago area because so many high schools from that region participate.
"But then the schools from the south have a long way to travel," she said, adding that having the tournament in a central location is fair.
"I think our chances are good," she said. But those chances will also depend on the bids submitted by other cities.
The UI Division of Intercollegiate Athletics will mostly facilitate the bid, outlining the logistics of holding the event, how parking, concessions, tickets and other issues would be handled.
The university is renovating the State Farm Center in stages to allow for the Illinois basketball teams to continue playing there. Some renovation work, such as the suites and club seats, will be done by the 2015-2016 Illinois men's season. The entire renovation is expected to wrap up by the beginning of the 2016-17 men's basketball season.
"It would be a great opportunity to show off our facility to people around the state, to have some of the finest basketball players in the state on campus and show off the campus to their parents and the students who follow them here," said associate athletics director Kent Brown.
Hosting tournaments like those organized by the IHSA does cause some challenges to scheduling, but Brown said the Big Ten is willing to work around those dates when possible,
When Peoria won the bid to host the games starting in 1996 it was a bit of a shock to the community, Brown said.
"We all felt a sense of entitlement to it. It was an eye opener to how we needed to upgrade or, as a community, show our support for these events," he said. "But in today's age we also know the financial piece is a big part of the things and the IHSA is responsible for driving revenue for the programs they support and that's part of the process."
On the visitors bureau end, DeLuce and her staff will solicit financial contributions from area hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
DeLuce declined to disclose the exact financial figure of the amount the bureau will seek for the IHSA, but "it will be significant," she said.
The IHSA board is expected to announce the results of the proposals in March 2015.
IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman told The Associated Press the decision to consider new venues doesn't mean the organization is unhappy with either Peoria or Normal and it's possible that either or both tournaments will stay where they are.
Champaign-Urbana hosts the IHSA football championships every other year (alternating with Northern Illinois University) and it hosts the wrestling tournament.
Hosting such tournaments is important, DeLuce said, "not only for the economic impact, but for the community pride in hosting that kind of event, to say we are the home of the IHSA football and IHSA wrestling championships."
She put the economic impact of the state wrestling championships at $5.5 million and the football finals at $3.1 million. The wrestling number is higher, she said, because wrestlers and their families tend to stay in town for multiple days.
- Total revenue: $10.9 million
- Total expenses: $10.8 million
- Executive director Martin Hickman’s salary: $204,000
- Total revenue from athletic tournaments: $7.67 million