Julian Tackett, commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, said the Boys Sweet 16 is “not winning the conflict with the NCAA Tournament like we used to” and that a timing change could be forthcoming for its signature event.
Kentucky’s girls and boys basketball state tournaments traditionally are played in the middle of March, with the girls Sweet 16 overlapping college basketball’s conference tournaments and the boys Sweet 16 overlapping the first week of the NCAA Tournament.
Tackett said the KHSAA is satisfied with the timing of the girls Sweet 16. Moving the boys Sweet 16 to the week before the girls Sweet 16 – during the final week of the college basketball regular season – is a possibility, Tackett said. That would force shortening the high school basketball regular season by one week or starting it a week earlier.
“We do a full, year-round menu of services for our schools,” Tackett said. “In order to fund that, these two basketball tournaments have to be successful.
“We are not winning the conflict with the NCAA Tournament like we used to. Unfortunately, even though the conflict may just be one game or two for regional universities or UK or U of L, the popularity of that tournament has made it to where we’re second fiddle. Our young fans are choosing the NCAA Tournament. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Can we eliminate that conflict and see if it works?’”
Total attendance for last week’s boys Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena was 92,437 fans, an average of 11,554 fans per session. That was a jump from the 2016 total attendance of 88,170 but far off the 1987 record of 140,266. Just eight years ago, in 2009, total attendance was 130,706.
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Sunday’s 2 p.m. boys Sweet 16 championship game between Bowling Green and Cooper drew 11,346 fans and went up against a pair of local teams playing second-round games in the NCAA Tournament – U of L at 12:10 p.m. and UK at 2:40 p.m.
Tackett said these issues likely will be addressed during the KHSAA’s Board of Control meeting set for May 9-10.
“May is going to be a big month for us,” Tackett said.
A future site for the girls Sweet 16 also will be a big topic for that Board of Control meeting. The KHSAA just completed a two-year deal with Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena to host the girls Sweet 16. A site for 2018 and beyond has not been selected.
Tackett said NKU, Bowling Green, Richmond, Lexington and Murray all have expressed interest in hosting the girls Sweet 16.
“Obviously there are some geographic challenges with Murray, but we’ll see,” Tackett said. “We’ll certainly look at anybody who is interested and has a big enough venue.”
Total attendance for this year’s girls Sweet 16 was 33,258, up slightly from the 31,947 who attended in 2016.
Tackett said he was pleased with the increased support from the NKU community this year.
“I think the second year was a really, really strong success,” Tackett said. “A lot of that is, I think any time you take something to a city for the first time, we didn’t know what to expect, nor did they. They have really stepped up. Their convention bureau, the (Chamber of Commerce) people, the arena, they’ve all stepped up to help promote the event. It’s much more of a big deal here, like it needed to be.”
Tackett also acknowledged Rupp Arena as a potential future site for the girls Sweet 16.
“If something could be worked out, we just have to see,” Tackett said. “It’s a little bit like our situation with football, in that there may be other venues that are desirable but you have to be able to afford them. There’s some business to this. … We need our (state tournaments) to be financially successful in all of these events.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.