The Indiana high school basketball tournament will not go back to the single-class format.
Underline it. Bold the letters. Add a few exclamation points if that’s your style. We’ll have dinosaurs peering the through the windows of Hinkle Fieldhouse before the Indiana High School Athletic Association reverses course and reinstalls the single-class tournament.
Like it or not, those days were over when the IHSAA adopted the four-class format for the 1997-98 season. But it appears that there is some real momentum for making a change to the tournament this time, and more than cheap talk.
The Indiana Basketball Coaches Association is finalizing a survey that it will send to all of the state’s high school boys and girls basketball coaches in mid-October on a proposal to alter the tournament format. IBCA executive director Steve Witty expects that the IBCA will get the results back by early November. If there is enough support — Witty estimates about 75 percent — the proposal will then go before the state’s athletic directors, and then would be presented formally to the IHSAA in the spring.
The proposal has a chance, because it isn’t a drastic change. It also has a chance of not having much an impact with the common fan, because it isn’t a drastic change.
The proposal would condense the tournament from four classes to three. Like it so far? Stay with me, because it may get confusing. Within each class, there would be two divisions. For example, Class 3A’s top division would have 32 schools with an enrollment from 1,935 to 4,687 (based on current enrollments). The bottom half of 3A would have 32 schools with an enrollment from 1,504 to 1,929.
Class 2A’s top half would have 64 teams (enrollment 819-1,496) and the bottom half 96 teams (enrollment 489-810). The top division of Class A would have 96 teams (enrollment 282-485) and the 85 schools with an enrollment of 281 and lower.
This plan, created by a 17-member IBCA panel and a year in the making, addresses several factors: cutting down on travel, balancing the number of teams in each sectional and creating more equitable divisions by enrollment.
The IBCA formulated the plan after IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox and state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, made an 11-stop statewide tour in the spring of 2012 to survey the public in a series of town hall meetings. Though the majority of the public voted in favor of the single-class system, no change came as a result of the town hall series and Cox said it would need to be initiated by the IBCA.
There have been other failed attempts at initiating a change to the tournament format. In 2009, a proposal by the state’s athletic directors to condense the baseball, basketball, softball and volleyball tournament from four classes to three did not receive enough support to make it to the IHSAA executive board when 58 percent of principals voted in favor of the current system.
So why is it any different four years later? For starters, the IHSAA seems more willing to admit that there are issues that need to be addressed. One in particular is a need to create more revenue. The attendance at the state finals in 2012 was 22,820, the lowest in history, and the 385,024 overall for the 2012 tournament was a record-low since the beginning of class basketball.
“We’d always like to see attendance get better,” Cox said. “We’re always concerned about it, but a lot of it comes down to matchups and the teams involved. Our attendance figures in Indiana follow trends that are occurring across the country for high school sports. There’s a lot of competition for that entertainment dollar and the game itself doesn’t carry the day anymore. You have to have something to go with it, and we’re always looking at things like that.”
Old-school fans aren’t going to get the single-class tournament back. Are three classes better than four? It’s worth a shot. I’ve been at enough hair-raising sectional environments the last several years to know that Hoosier Hysteria is not dead. And though it isn’t the compromise idea I’d personally like to see, it may have the best chance of passing muster with all parties involved.
Maybe a tweak here and there can spice things up again.