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Class Basketball or Not? Here's a Solution
March 12, 2008 - We’re at the midway point of the four Indiana High School boys basketball state tournaments, and like every year prior to this, since the adoption of a class basketball system, we’re hearing calls for change.
You hear that every year, especially from the larger schools, which aren’t particularly happy with the level of competition they have to play in the early rounds of the tournament. The larger schools were much happier dominating the sectional field year after year. Class basketball has taken that away from most of those giants.
How happy were those big guys playing against their smaller county rivals? Take a quick look:
The Lions have won 48 sectional titles and 19 regionals. All 19 regional titles came before class basketball, as did 44 of the sectional titles. In the 1970s the Lions won eight of 10 sectionals, and years ago won 17 in a row. Since class basketball they have won four sectionals.
The Trojans have won 58 sectional titles and 18 regional crowns. Since class basketball New Castle has won six sectionals and two regional titles. Immediately before class basketball the Trojans had won 14-of-15 sectionals from 1983-97, a streak interrupted only by Knightstown’s 1987 title.
Not a local team, but perhaps the best example in the state. Prior to class basketball the Broncos won 63 sectional championships, 38 regionals, 12 semistates and three state titles. Since class basketball, they have won four sectionals and have gone no further.
Obviously, the larger schools don’t like the fact that they no longer have the smaller county schools to kick around in the sectional and regional levels. On the flip side, how has class basketball worked out for the area’s smaller schools? Let’s take a look:
Prior to class basketball the Titans had won two sectional titles, getting back-to-back championships at New Castle in 1976 and 1977. Since the inception of class ball, they have won a single sectional, in 2005. That’s one sectional title in 11 years of class ball, and two titles in the 27 other years of the school’s existence.
Before class basketball the Royals won three sectionals in 32 years. They took titles at Rushville, New Castle and Greenfield-Central. In 11 years of class basketball they have won two sectionals, including this season and 2003, when they beat Knightstown (13-9) in the final. They won their school’s only regional title in 2003.
Like Eastern Hancock, the Panthers have won five sectional titles and one regional. Knightstown won two sectionals (1958 and 1987) in more than 80 years before class basketball, and have claimed three since class play (2004, 2005 and 2006). The Panthers won one regional in 2005, losing by just three points in the semistate to eventual state champion Forest Park.
Considering the years between sectional titles, class basketball has worked out better for the small schools than it has for most of the larger ones. That explains a little more about why the big guys are still screaming for some changes to the system.
Class basketball came about because officials wanted to level the playing field and allow more kids the chance to win a sectional. The problem is, the change didn’t just level the playing field. It also softened it and basically made it less interesting. Everyone can reach a high level of accomplishment when we lower the standards.
Whether you agree with the softening of the playing field or not, the system hasn’t worked as well as most thought.
Communities celebrate their team winning the sectional, but the accomplishment is watered down and is in no way comparable to winning the tournament prior to class basketball.
Attendance for the state tournament is a fraction of what it used to be. Community spirit doesn’t come close to comparing to what it was just 20 years ago, and that’s not because there aren’t basketball fans out there any more. The state tournament just doesn’t carry the weight it used to because frankly, it doesn’t mean as much.
The entire community storefront is no longer decorated for the sectional, as it was nearly every year under the old format. This year’s sectional semifinal nearly sold out at Hagerstown, where more than 2,500 people attended. That doesn’t compare to 9,000 at New Castle for every round in previous years.
Interest has dwindled because the tournament has been changed to offer up a politically-correct, “feel good” opportunity for everyone to have a chance at a sectional title.
Locally, the heart of the old tournament centered on the one-in-a-whatever chance that your team would be able to knock off the big school sitting in the county seat. With class basketball there’s never going to be a sequel to Hoosiers, and Remember the Titans wasn’t a Hollywood movie about Tri beating Union City for the 2005 Class A sectional title.
Then again, maybe Hoosiers II isn’t out of the question. All the IHSAA needs to do is tweak the current system.
As in the old single-class format, there are currently 64 sectional sites across the state. Today, they are divided up by 16 sites in each of the four classes. If the IHSAA left those unchanged and sectionals were played according to classes that are currently assigned, then all the little guys still have their chance to win the sectional. But once sectionals are completed, the format could revert to a one-class system.
On a regional level the field would be merged into one statewide tournament, with a winner from each class going into a regional field based on the geographic layout previously used by the IHSAA.
For example, at the New Castle Regional, the winner at the Class 4A New Castle Sectional would be joined by the Class 3A Muncie South Sectional winner. The Class 2A Hagerstown Sectional champion and the Class 1A Blue River Sectional winner would make up the rest of that regional field.
The scenario would then be repeated throughout the state, giving all 16 regional sites a sectional winner from all four classes.
The feel-good “everybody gets a chance to win” scenario would still apply because the sectionals would still be set up by class. But the tournament would revert to its old self as soon as sectional play is complete, although the playing field would be much more balanced.
The first argument against this would be travel costs, but that’s ridiculous considering the distance some schools have been forced to travel just to play in class basketball sectionals. It would work and there wouldn’t be any more travel involved than there is today.
Once the regionals are completed, the “Sweet 16” would have the same incredible impact and meaning it had before class basketball.
Had that scenario been in place this season, Eastern Hancock would have gone to New Castle to play in a regional that included the Trojans, Delta and Monroe Central. Knightstown’s 2005 semistate team would have been in a regional with New Castle, Muncie Central and Tri High. I don’t know if the Panthers would have gotten their regional title that year, but how much higher would the interest level have been?
Knightstown coach John Howell likes that scenario.
“One-class basketball is the purest form, but class basketball provides the opportunity for some schools to win a sectional,” Howell said. “There’s a positive to all things. But I like that idea, to have a sectional and then throw everybody together for the rest of the tournament. I think that would please both sides.”
Most people agree that interest in high school basketball hasn’t necessarily dropped, but interest in the state tournament has because of longtime rivalries lost when class basketball was first implemented.
Some of those could be returned by merging the field after the sectional.
It’s apparent that class basketball is here to stay. It’s also obvious that there is a growing movement to return to the one-class system, and the two sides aren’t any closer to budging than they were 11 years ago.
Class basketball was born in an attempt to give everyone a chance to be a winner and even the playing field. Wouldn’t changing to this system accomplish the same thing and please everyone at the same time?
With attendance at, and interest in, the state tournament down dramatically, maybe now is the time to change the system to include both single and multi-class formats.
Maybe, finally, both sides could win.
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