By Joe Henricksen
There are more than a few skeptics of the four-class basketball system that is now in place. And when you're talking high school basketball coaches and Illinois prep basketball purists and enthusiasts, the skeptics are in the majority. In the end, there is even a nightmare scenario that could develop for the IHSA, the organization that has done a wonderful job in so many different areas of high school sports in this state. It still remains nothing more than a "What if" right now, but it's getting closer and closer to developing.
First, North Lawndale out of the Chicago Public League is two wins away from capturing the Class 2A state title. Marshall and Simeon, two Class 3A heavyweights, are heavily favored to reach Peoria. And Whitney Young has emerged as the favorite to bring home the Class 4A crown. Imagine, in the first year of the four-class system, three Chicago Public League teams bringing home three of the four state titles? And this following Marshall and Whitney Young winning the Class 3A and Class 4A girls state titles.
We could be looking at Marshall and Whitney Young both winning state championships in boys basketball as well. That would be four state titles between two Chicago Public League schools that are 3.1 miles away from one another. So much for representation from around the state. While four classes has certainly opened doors for some faulty, substandard teams to win weak, watered down regional and sectional titles, it's just making it easier for the basketball super powers to advance to the big stage.
But that's not the nightmare scenario. This is....
If these matchups materialize, with Marshall, Simeon and Whitney Young all in Peoria for the big school tournament, the crowds are sure to be small. Perhaps, really small. As talented as these three teams are -- arguably the three best teams in Illinois -- they don't bring fans to Peoria. The IHSA can be thankful Curie was beaten Wednesday night. But there are a couple of other schools that could potentially make it to Peoria that have not -- or will not -- bring a large fan base, either.
You have to wonder how many people will be in the stands for a potential state championship game in the middle of the afternoon (the 3A title game time) next Saturday if Marshall and Simeon were squaring off in the first All-Public League boys state championship game? The IHSA can only hope the local team, Washington, makes it. That team alone may bring enough fans to fill half of Carver Arena.
The big losers in this scenario, though, could be the people and businesses in Peoria. We are talking more than potential empty seats. We are talking hundreds of hotel rooms left open, meals not being eaten in restaurants and gas not being pumped. Again, the fanbase at Whitney Young, Simeon and Marshall will not be very well represented in Peoria. And even with Washington, the majority of those fans aren't hotel-staying fans, likely choosing to make the short trek east back to Washington.
The good news? As mentioned before, if the right teams make it to the Class 3A Final Four -- Marshall, Simeon, Washington and Decatur Eisenhower -- it would be the first time in a long time (maybe ever?) that the four best teams in a specific class of basketball were all in the semifinals. Lets just hope there are some fans in the stands to see it.
Time will tell.