Operation Hoops

Champaign-Urbana will be among several communities competing to host the girls' and boys' state high school basketball tournaments.

In terms of tradition and aesthetics, there's no doubt that the University of Illinois is the best locale to host the tournaments.

That ship sailed long ago — has it really been 19 years? — but local tourism promoters are working on a bid to bring the state tournaments back to Champaign-Urbana. It won't be easy to wrest those events away from Peoria, which plays host to the boys' tournament, and Normal, which hosts the girls' tourney.

It's still worth trying. The economic benefits of drawing hundreds of visitors to C-U are obvious. UI men's basketball coach John Groce has attested to the recruiting advantages of having Illinois' top players play in the Assembly Hall and visit the UI campus.

Still, the tourney is not what it used to be. The boys' tournament once was the focus of statewide attention. Now it's one of many competing entertainment events, including Big 10 and NCAA men's and women's tourneys, and attendance is down. Still, it's big and could become even bigger if managed properly.

Jayne DeLuce, the CEO of Visit Champaign County, is putting together a community bid to host from 2016-2020, and she has plenty to sell, including a remodeled State Farm Center. But the effort will rise or fall on the strength of financial support and visitor amenities. The tradition that once was doesn't matter any more.

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