Likas | Fans will benefit the most from changes to IHSA hoops showcase

Likas | Fans will benefit the most from changes to IHSA hoops showcase

Anyone who has attended an Illinois High School Association state basketball tournament during the last several years could tell change was required.

This past season's boys' state tournament at Carver Arena in Peoria was my first in person, being in this role only for the last two basketball seasons. But even I could see attendance wasn't at a level the powers that be would hope for. Especially for the boys' state tournament.

And so, IHSA officials took action.

Its executive board on Monday approved an alteration to the boys' and girls' state tournament format, shifting from a four-week layout to a condensed, six-day setup across two weeks.

Beginning in 2021, all four classes of girls' games will happen from Thursday through Saturday one week, and all four classes of boys' games the following week in the same Thursday through Saturday schedule. Four programs still will qualify in each class.

So, let's start with initial reaction solely to the change in tournament alignment.

I'm all for it.

Giving spectators — whether they have investment in a participating team or not — more bang for their buck through being able to see all of the state's best teams in action should put more butts in seats.

Splitting up 1A and 2A from those in 3A and 4A only encourages those interested in those specific teams to show up on their prescribed weekend.

Former St. Joseph-Ogden boys' basketball coach Brian Brooks recognizes this as well, harkening back to a 2000 state appearance when he was an assistant coach at Riverton.

"Our kids got to go out Friday night and took the floor in front of 12,000 people. It's an experience those kids and all of us will never forget," Brooks said. "Now you go in there and, this year was one of the better attended for the big schools, but it was 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000 at most."

At its most base level, this change should bring far more positives than negatives.

But we must examine both sides of the coin. And on the flip side, there are worries from the likes of Brooks and current SJ-O girls' coach Kevin Taylor that the third-place game would be eliminated in this format.

"After last season and having such a great experience at state, I am hesitant to see major changes to the state championship games," said Taylor, who guided the Spartans to third place in 2019. "To make major changes could take away opportunities of a lifetime for so many young athletes and their families."

It appears there may be good news on that front.

According to a Tuesday report from Michael O'Brien of the Chicago Sun-Times, he was "hearing the IHSA board is also seriously considering a '6-6-4 (schedule)' with 1A/2A semis on (Thursday) afternoon, 1A/2A third place games on (Thursday) night. Repeat on Friday with 3A/4A, then just title games on Saturday."

If that is the case, worries over the loss of consolation matchups will prove unfounded.

There's an argument against having teams that lose their semifinals play again the same day, as well as forcing semifinal-winning 1A/2A programs to wait an extra day for their title games.

But prep hoops squads often are accustomed to suiting up for multiple games in a day thanks to regular-season tournaments, and state track and field operates similarly in having 1A competitors in Thursday preliminaries and Saturday finals.

Plus, two games on one day at state was the way it was for teams under the old two-class system that was abandoned after the 2006-07 season. Under the old format, teams that reached the state semifinals played in that game and either in the third-place game or state championship game later in the day.

The exact dates and times of games is still up in the air, but I like the direction the IHSA is headed if what O'Brien heard pans out.

Now, let's discuss the elephant in the room. Where are all these games going to be held?

For 2020, the IHSA is continuing on with its current four-week format, as well as putting the girls' state tournament at Normal's Redbird Arena and the boys' state tournament at Peoria's Carver Arena.

The IHSA made clear Monday, however, that this change in tournament structure is directly tied to the previously-announced opening of hosting bids.

What folks around here want to know is if Champaign can bring back both events.

The boys' tournament was hosted by the University of Illinois for 77 years, from 1918 to 1995 before moving to Peoria in 1996. The UI also held the girls' matchups for a spell, beginning in 1978 and ending in 1991 before it shifted to Normal.

There's obvious interest from local authorities in bringing back the events, as written about by The News-Gazette's Ben Zigterman last February.

And I'll bet hoops fans around the state would be open to it as well.

Champaign offers a straightforward drive that isn't wildly extensive for anyone in Illinois.

The UI carries recently-upgraded facilities at State Farm Center that will offer most athletes a top-of-the-line experience, as far as what they're likely to see in the rest of their respective basketball careers.

And there's a widespread appreciation for the sport in this area — though I'm not saying there isn't in either Peoria or Normal — that should draw out more than just fans of involved teams.

Peoria and Normal certainly will fight to keep their tournaments, as they should. Other cities will put themselves in the running as well.

But with this adjustment to a fresh take on state basketball, it's time for fresh scenery around it as well. Champaign can offer just that.

 

Preps coordinator Colin Likas writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

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