C-U likely to make another bid to host IHSA basketball tournament


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PEORIA — After losing out to Peoria in 2015, Champaign-Urbana will likely try again to bring back the boys' state high school basketball tournament it hosted for 77 years.

With the contract set to expire in 2020, IHSA board members have begun discussions about the future of the event, which could see a major change — having all four classes play over one weekend instead of the current two — wherever it's held.

Local officials hope it's here, home to the IHSA boys' basketball finals from 1919 to 1995.

"We are definitely working on a bid for the next round," University of Illinois athletics spokesman Kent Brown said Tuesday. "We are definitely interested and are still working on a committee to put together the informationand the bid for the next round of games."

When the contract was last up, in 2015, the community put forward a $750,000 bid to lure back the boys' tournament, which the IHSA opted to keep in Peoria.

If the IHSA switches in 2021 to the new format its board discussed — holding the girls' state finals on March 4-6 and the boys on March 11-13 — Champaign-Urbana could make a play for both events.

The girls' state finals, which debuted in 1977, were held at what's now the State Farm Center from 1978-91 before moving to Normal, which hosted the inaugural event.

Booking the Illini's basketball home for four consecutive weekends would be too tall an order. But a condensed format makes bidding for the girls' tournament "worth a discussion," Brown said. "A decision has not been made."

The IHSA board hasn't voted on the condensed tournament schedule, but said it would be seeking feedback on the idea.

Visit Champaign County CEO Jayne DeLuce said that if approved, bids would likely be due in December 2019, with a vote in March 2020.

She said a bid is being "explored" and that Champaign-Urbana would be in a better position than it was the last time around.

"I think the State Farm Center is the premier venue in the state of Illinois and should be the host location for the basketball tournament, for boys or girls," she said.

Unlike in 2015, State Farm Center is no longer under construction, DeLuce pointed out.

"The facility is done, which makes a big difference," she said. "At the time we showed the State Farm Center last time, it was a dust bowl. Now, it's completely finished. I think they would see the added amenities of the renovated State Farm Center."

Brown agreed, saying: "We have one of the finest facilities in the country and state to host a tournament like this."

In the 2015 effort, donors and private entities put together $510,000, and local communities pledged another $240,000, including $30,000 a year from Champaign and $5,000 a year from Urbana.

Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said she'd support another bid.

"We tried very hard last time, so I'm looking forward to being part of the effort this time as well," she said. "It's just a great event to bring to our community and highlight and showcase our community."

Urbana's pledge would be "a small investment with a great return," Marlin said. "It's not just in dollars and cents, but in positive impressions of our community. And for some kids, it's their first time at the University of Illinois."

In 2015, local hotels also committed to providing at least 410 rooms with discounted rates, welcome bags, snacks and complimentary shuttles. Hotels also vowed not to require two-night stays, as they had in the past.

DeLuce said the area's hotels would be able to handle a condensed state tournament, comparing it to this weekend's state wrestling tournament, which is bringing 672 athletes to town.

While she said there's a "complete sellout" of hotels this weekend, "we do have enough space" for a basketball tournament, she said.

"If we can host wrestling with that many people, we can host that many people" for basketball, DeLuce said.

The contract for the state wrestling tournament is also up after 2020, and DeLuce said the community would "absolutely" like to continue hosting it.

"Wrestling is our biggest economic impact, especially with the number of wrestlers, family members, fans and officials who stay here multiple days," she said.

While the IHSA football finals typically bring fans to town for a day when they're held every other year at Memorial Stadium, events like wrestling — and potentially basketball — are more likely to keep them around longer, DeLuce said.