BLOOMINGTON — The start of a fresh IHSA basketball season may be more than three months away, but a recent decision to alter the boys’ and girls’ state tournament format still has plenty of folks talking.
IHSA executive director Craig Anderson shed some light on the topic in a Thursday interview with The News-Gazette, including the fate of third-place games and the status of facilities applying to host future state bouts.
A June IHSA board of directors meeting resulted in the approval of a more-condensed state hoops schedule.
Class 1A-4A girls’ contests will be held across a Thursday-Saturday span, beginning in 2021, with boys’ games the following week in the same alignment.
That replaces the current four-week state setup, which remains in place for 2020, in which 1A-2A events are separated from 3A-4A meetings.
This alteration was confirmed in conjunction with the reopening of bids for tournament hosting duties.
Peoria has handled boys’ state since 1996, and Illinois State in Normal has hosted girls’ state since 1992. Both will do so in 2020 as well.
Anderson said Thursday this seismic shift in the IHSA basketball landscape hasn’t been met with abundant member-school response, simply because the change occurred with school largely out for the summer.
“We had generally gotten word out about this possible change (beforehand) and had received some feedback,” Anderson said. “Generally, that was positive. ... We haven’t received any negative feedback.”
The logic behind approving a new state tournament format at this time was two-fold, according to Anderson.
“A few years back, our board of directors at the time kind of charged our staff to take a look at revamping, rejuvenating the basketball state tournament in particular,” he said, “as we had seen attendance start to decline.
“The timing is ... the 2021 (season) and the change in contract. It’s most convenient to enter into a new contract versus trying to, midcontract, ask a venue when they plan for a certain format to change.”
Anderson didn’t shy away from the IHSA’s recognition that fans aren’t flocking to boys’ or girls’ state action in quite the droves they used to.
He did say the last “two or three” tournaments have “leveled out” attendance from a consistent decline over prior versions.
But those associated with the IHSA still envision grander surroundings for the state’s best hoopsters. Thus, the aforementioned formatting adjustment.
The exact day-by-day slate for each class’ games isn’t set in stone, yet Anderson hinted at what fans could see.
“The one highlight of the tournament that we’re confident that we’ll have in terms of scheduling is the fact we’re going to have all four championship games be played in back-to-back-to-back-to-back (segments),” Anderson said. “We’re hopeful that will really create some excitement in the state and folks will come out.”
Athletes, coaches and rooters also needn’t worry — at least not now — about a departure of consolation games.
Anderson said attendance concerns linger for the third-place meetings, but added IHSA officials couldn’t justify terminating their existence because of this.
“It’s about the experience for our student-athletes,” Anderson said. “At the end of the day, we thought, at this point, that there’s still value in the third place, the consolation game, and so we wanted to keep it.”
Where things could get interesting is if member schools eventually desire another shift that may render third-place matchups obsolete.
“It definitely would be something we may consider changing up differently if ... schools don’t see the value in that and want to modify the tournament in some way,” Anderson said. “Maybe it brings back more teams to state.
“I really haven’t looked at that structure possibility, but maybe that’s what the coaches are thinking: that we bring eight teams per class, eliminate the consolation games, if there was a structure that might work.”
Eight-team fields previously were the norm for the boys’ and girls’ tournaments, dating from 1956-2007 for the former and 1977-1981 and 1983-2007 for the latter.
As for where any of these games would take place, that’s still up in the air.
Anderson said the IHSA last week released a request for proposal on its website, so the organization isn’t close to whittling down a list of finalists.
“(We’ll) just visit with people about the proposals should we have any questions leading into probably next March,” Anderson said. “Kind of at the conclusion of this coming year’s tournaments, we’ll likely be making a decision where we would be the following year.”
The News-Gazette reported in February that Champaign-Urbana officials plan to submit a bid for at least the boys’ tournament, which left the University of Illinois in 1996.