Beginning with the year 2021, future IHSA state basketball tournaments will be conducted under a new format thanks to a decision made by the IHSA board of directors.
A press release following Monday's IHSA board meeting outlined an approved change from the current four-week setup, instead putting all girls' state action into one three-day period and all boys' state contests into a similar timeframe the following week.
For the 2021 postseason — the first in which this format will be implemented — all girls' state tournament bouts will occur March 4-6. This is Week 35 of the IHSA calendar, which currently plays host to the Class 3A and 4A girls' state tournaments. Boys' state games then will follow on March 11-13, 2021. This falls on Week 36 of the IHSA calendar, when the Class 1A and 2A boys' state tilts presently occur.
This will replace the present concept, which splits 1A/2A from 3A/4A in both genders across a period of four weeks. This has been in place since basketball shifted to a four-class alignment beginning with the 2007-08 season.
"There has been a great deal of support for this new tournament format over the past few months," IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said in the press release. "It was fairly unanimous that most felt like it was idea worth trying."
What isn't changing is the number of teams qualifying for state out of each class — four. Scheduling of all state bouts "will be finalized in the coming months," according to the IHSA's press release. Alterations also will be necessary for regional, sectional and super-sectional games, according to the release.
"I thought this was coming in large part due to lack of attendance," said Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley boys' coach Ryan Tompkins, who guided the Falcons to Class 2A state earlier this year. "I think it will improve the overall experience and excitement of the weekend by having all the best teams the state has to offer in one location at the same time."
Former St. Joseph-Ogden boys’ leader Brian Brooks, who pushed the Spartans to state showings in 2013 and 2016, said he hopes retooling of the tournaments won’t eliminate third-place games — a point that was not directly addressed in the IHSA’s statement.
Other than that concern, Brooks offered a largely positive take on this alteration.
"Back when it was two classes ... it was the hot ticket and you’d have 12,000 people there, and that just hasn’t been the case with the four classes," said Brooks, who was an assistant for a state-qualifying Riverton boys’ club in the two-class days of 2000. "Hopefully the format change to one weekend brings back some of that interest."
The IHSA's press release noted this change lines up with the opening of hosting bids for each gender's 2021, 2022 and 2023 tournaments. Illinois State has housed the girls' showcase since 1992, while Peoria has handled boys' games since 1996. Normal's Redbird Arena and Peoria's Carver Arena still will welcome their respective tournaments in 2020, under the current four-week format.
"We obviously have great relationships with both venues and host communities," Anderson said in the release. "We fully expect both to bid once again, but believe it’s only fair to open up the process in conjunction with these format changes so that they can evaluate if and how it impacts them."
In a February interview with The News-Gazette, University of Illinois athletics spokesman Kent Brown said "we are definitely working on a bid for the next round. We are definitely interested and are still working on a committee to put together the informationand the bid for the next round of games."
Regardless of where the tournaments eventually wind up, Tompkins is optimistic the more condensed version will benefit all involved.
"Fans will hopefully be more intrigued about coming and staying to watch all levels," Tompkins said. "It is one of the best weekends the IHSA has to offer, and this could prove to be a memorable improvement when it's looked back on in 10 to 20 years."