By Joe Henricksen

Some sizzle but plenty of fizzle in Peoria

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at both the sizzle and fizzle from this past weekend in Peoria. While a future blog later this week will talk about the sizzle in Peoria (the Hoops Report promises not to be all negative), today the focus is on the fizzle.

There may have been someone out there with as much despise for four classes as the City/Suburban Hoops Report, but there was certainly no one with more after it was announced the IHSA would change March Madness as we know it forever a few years ago.

After years of attending the Elite Eight in Champaign and spending one weekend every year in Peoria since 1994, the Hoops Report planned to go into the State Finals with an open mind that first year of four classes. And last year. And this year. Is three years enough?

The Hoops Report didn't think it could possibly happen, but the despise has grown. This truly proud and respected state tournament has seriously lost its luster. All you had to do was look at the crowds and how the energy has been sucked right out of Peoria. I couldn't help but wonder what the IHSA was thinking as it sat there in an arena that was often less than half full. Mysteriously, the attendance figures seem to be under lock and key and are nearly impossible to get anymore. What major sporting event doesn't announce attendance figures? The IHSA always used to.

There have been people who remind me that state tournament attendance was on a decline prior to the arrival of four classes. That may be true to an extent, but even if those people could go to the extreme and claim the state tournament was on life support, I believe four classes pulled the plug.

Each year I hear more fans that regularly attend the State Finals in Peoria say "we're done coming." I get sad, knowing one of my favorite times of the year and must-see events is dying a slow death. Maybe it's not so slow after seeing what transpired this past weekend. Anyone who has subscribed to the Hoops Report knows the passion I have for prep basketball in Illinois, yet even I have found the last few years in Peoria very blah. I don't even cherish the experience as I once did. And I'm not even an old-timer.

No, I don't think the four state champions that were crowned in the four different classes felt anything less than being a champion, so if that was truly the motive -- as well as for countless regional and sectional plaques to be handed out the last three years -- mission accomplished. That's what the IHSA is about, providing more opportunities for kids and making sure more student-athletes enjoy and experience success. Good for them. The IHSA sure does accomplish that with the four-class system. But at what cost?

The IHSA is not concerned with providing the best product or doing what the masses prefer. That's not its job. Those concerns (caliber of play and popularity) are not part of the IHSA's general mission. However, when it begins to impact the event (small attendance figures, less profit, less excitement, etc.) does it become a concern?

The event itself, the aura, the excitement for others attending the state tournament, well, it's not the same. Thursday night in Peoria used to be happening, with people in hotel bars and local establishments, filling it up with basketball conversation. It was dead this past weekend. The crowds were awful, even embarrassing considering what this tournament once was. People pause, think and, eventually, can't even recall past state champions anymore with four being crowned each year.

The ideas of the IHSA and the differences people like myself and others have with it really comes down to philosophical differences. I am of the belief that everyone doesn't have to be a winner, that it's just fine if you don't win a regional or sectional, get downstate or win a medal. Life will go on, just as it did for thousands of student-athletes before who didn't experience basketball success in March. But society has certainly changed. This is the age of everyone gets a ribbon, every kid has to be on the honor roll and no one loses.

Sadly, though, there are just so many negatives developing as a result of the four-class system that are difficult to ignore...
• ... Starting with Class 1A. The level of play in Class 1A is bad. Just bad, low caliber basketball. The Class 2A tournament is very reminiscent of past Class A tournaments, with Robinson and Peoria Manual playing at a high small school level.
• No one remembers who is in what class and who won what state title in what class. As a result, general interest and conversation is lost.
• Empty arena. The title game in 4A was dreadful. The crowds on Friday afternoon were awful. The IHSA can thank nearby Washington two years ago for saving the attendance that year. Oswego helped out a year ago. And after a poor showing Friday, hometown Peoria Richwoods came back strong in attendance on Saturday.
• While there are some who back the four-class system, there aren't many. Coaches, fans and media members, in general, just aren't on board.
• Third-place games. No one likes them other than the competing schools and diehard fans. The game is typically played at a lower level and, understandably, with less intensity. And no one shows up to watch. Now we have two of these games played on Saturday. Is it any wonder fans stay away?
• A state championship played on a Saturday afternoon? Ugghhhh.
• Say what you want about opportunity for schools, but four classes (at least in 3A and 4A) actually makes it easier for the regular powers to dominate. The top teams are spread out, stretched thin and have golden opportunities to return to Peoria year after year after year. You don't think a school like Chicago Marshall relishes in the fact it avoids many of the Chicago area powers in 3A?
• And why the jump to four classes? What would have been wrong with just going to three classes?

The IHSA and four classes is not all to blame. Times have changed and the focus has shifted. Despite being the crown jewel of Illinois prep sports, the passion and interest for the sport is not what it once was. We see that all winter in empty gyms and even with smaller attendance figures at various holiday tournaments in December. There are still some communities that really rally around their school making a deep run in March, but there are plenty of others schools that, for various reasons and outside influences, just doesn't get the following we've seen in the past.

Plus, I am convinced youth sports rule the world. Schools could close and test scores could plummet in a school district, but as long as the youth sports game on Sunday at 8 a.m. is being played, everything is OK. We could be invaded by a foreign country or face a famine, but as long 8-year-olds Jimmy and Johnny win their 13th place game in some youth Kickoff Classic, everything is OK. The point is there seems to be some type of youth league or tournament every night and every weekend of the year for kids, which takes away from many fans staying interested in prep sports or just too busy to attend.

The reasons are many, but the IHSA state basketball tournament is officially a dud.

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27 Comments

I couldn't agree with you more on all accounts. Things are different for sure. I don't like it but there is nothing we can do. Times have changed. Unfortunately the IHSA has changed with the times and allows our current culture to dictate what they do.

This thing is done. Went to Peoria this weekend. I can watch those city teams play each other all winter long in the city. This wasn't a state tournament. Imagine if Robeson would have made it to Peoria? They almost did! Four public league teams out of eight if Robeson had made it. What a joke.

I have mixed emotions. I think its great more teams can experience success the joys of winning. But at the same time, if that 's the goal why not go to six classes? Or eight classes? Why stop at four? I imagine in time we will add more classes again.

Maybe the IHSA can take a cue from the NCAA this weekend. Cinderella teams, Northern Iowa, St. Mary's, Cornell. Fans want Hoosiers. The little guy comes up against the powerhouse and wins. 4 classes in all sports is too many. At least drop down to three. If the IHSA keeps this up they are going to become even more irrelevant than they are now.

Joe, don't discount the affect of media cutbacks either. The Sakos of the world helping to generate knowledgeable and enthusiastic stories are gone and replaced by freelancers who, though no fault of their own, are stretched too thinly to really get to know teams and don't get enough print inches to write enough engaging copy other than score, leading scorer, and one generic quote from said scorer or coach. Plus, the only crew who actually covers most of the better teams in Comcast gets left on the sidelines for the generic IHSA Network. I believe there are several factors at play here leading the hoops (and football) tourney to a slow death.

I like Bob's comments about taking a cue from the NCAA. Those smaller schools don't have the athletic or recruiting budgets the big boys do. They lack resources. But Northern Iowa doesn't want to play in the NIT or those other tournaments. They want a shot at the best. They got it. And 9 times out of 10 they lose to Kansas. But look at them now! Same could be said about high school basketball. I have lost interest in high school basketball. I will read about it here and there but I don't care about it like I did 10 years or even 5 years ago.

Public League rules this year, will next year and for years to come. The IHSA opened the door for so many city teams they shot themselves in the foot. Fans don't want to see 3 or 4 public league teams down there. It was fine when they opened it up and 2 could get down. The interest like you say has fizzled.

All I wanted was to see Richwoods and Hillcrest have a shot at Young, Waukegan and Simeon. Is that too much to ask? And how much more of an opportunity is it really giving teams? Look at the participants in Peoria in 3A and 4A! They all have been there before and pretty recently. Yes, IHSA! More opportunities! It's like Joe said in his blog, this gives easier roads for the powers to get to Peoria.

Forget about who makes it to Peoria! The worst part of this mess is watching some of these awful regional and sectional games. There are a ton of blowouts deep in tournament play. There are teams that have no business playing in sectional games still playing because of the easy roads these teams have. Bartlett in 4A super? Oswego in a 3A super? Come on! Joke

These athletes, coaches, and sometimes the school system forget that student comes before athlete in student-athlete. You are right about there being a lot of tournaments for the youth which takes away those fans that would attend a prep game. The youth need to be playing but they should cut down the number of games they play. http://sosportz.blogspot.com

THAT IS EXACTLY WHY THEY INVENTED THE FOUR CLASS SYSTEM, THE CPS DOESN'T HAVE ALOT OF 1A SCHOOLS!
THE WIN FOR ROBINSON OVER HALES FRANCISCAN WAS A BIG WIN, HALES MAY BE SMALL IN NUMBERS, BUT THEY ARE HUGE IN VICTORIES, THAT TEAM WON THE BIG DIPPER TOURNEY AT RICH SOUTH, AND THAT TOURNAMENT HAS 2A,3A AND 4A SCHOOLS IN THE TOURNEY, SO YOU SEE HOW BIG THE WIN WAS FOR ROBINSON, THEY BEAT A SCHOOL THAT DEFEATED EVERY CLASS OF SCHOOLS IN THE STATE OF ILLINOIS!
AS FAR AS THAT NORTHERN IOWA VICTORY, REMEMBER THIS, IF KANSAS WASN'T SO NICE TO THEM WHEN THE GAME BEGAN, AND I MEAN THE FACT THAT THEY DIDN'T PRESS THEM UNTIL ABOUT 3 MINUTES LEFT IN THE GAME, NICE GUYS DO FINISH LAST, A MISSOURI VALLEY TEAM HAD NOT MADE IT TO THE SWEET 16 SINCE LARRY BIRD'S INDIANA STATE TEAM IN 1979!
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS IN THE NEXT GAME, WITH CORNELL, NORTHERN IOWA, WHATEVER TEAM PLAYS THEM, THEY AREN'T GOING TO BE NICE, THOSE DAYS ARE OVER, THEY ARE GOING TO HAVE TO CHANGE UNIFORMS AT HALFTIME, BECAUSE THEY ARE GOING TO BE SOAKING WET!

I don't understand Phil Smith's point in regard to Northern Iowa? What does UNI have anything to do with this? Also, big Phil, research your Missouri Valley basketball. There have been a number of Sweet 16 teams from this conference, including teams right in your own state with Southern Illinois and Bradley in recent years. Plus, Creighton and a couple of others.

Seriously, this was all done for those schools with less than 200 students. That is why 3 classes would have been fine. Let those tiny schools play one another and split the remaining schools up into two classes.

4 Class Basketball is Disgusting! A joke. Boring. No relevance. Trashed the game.

FOUR CLASS SYSTEM SUCKS!!!!!!!! Enough said.

We have to accept it because it aint going back. The IHSA ignored what the coaches in the state of Illinois had to say. And I think the coaches are the ones who really are in the know and have a feel for what is best. yet they were ignored when this decision was made. IHSA has an arrogance about them it seems.

The old system wasn't broke. That is what I don't understand. Why was there such a rush to change things up?

The 4-class system is certainly a dud for spectators, no doubt. But, I will say that many 1A and 3A coaches like it, for obvious reasons. Every coach wants the easiest draw---whatever it takes to get to State! With that being said, I believe Salt Fork was as good as any 2A school I saw this year, and all of the 3A schools at state this year were as good as any 4A team I saw this year. Centennial and Richwoods could have made it in the 4A bracket. I do think Marshall and Sesser benefited from the 4-class system, but that's about all. Another irritating thing is that the IHSA led most people to believe that the new 4-class system would get more teams to state, so more teams could "experience" the thrill.(That would actually make sense if this was why the new system was put into place) Nope! Obviously there are still only 16 teams that make it to state(4 in each class), so basically all the new system did was water down the state tournament in Illinois forever, which is a shame.

I hope the IHSA will change it back to two classes, however I would also accept a 3-class system. Heck, they "experimented" with this new 4-class system, so why not do the same with 3 classes. It's worth a shot!

How are you guys upset that the CPS schools dominate. They play by the rules and they win. Everyone was upset when they had the automatic bid so they get rid of it and they still win. What do you guys want? You can't have it both ways. The problem with attendance is a result of the Chicagoland teams get down there and the crowds are not as big. Well move it to Chicago and you will have more of the people in the city coming to the games and that will improve attendance.

Think about it ..... when you had the two class system and the CPS with the automatic elit 8 spot you had a guarantee of 5 Chicago area suburban/private schools that would qualify, 2 down state teams, and the CPS school. That means you had a guarentee of 7 schools that wopuld bring tons of students and fans to the game and the CPS winner would actually bring fans from the entire city to see that winner (plus the CPS championship game was a lock sell out even at the United Center). Way to cook the golden goose IHSA

3 classes would be fine. I have always said that. 4 is too many. Leave 1A and 2A exactly how they are now, and combine 3A and 4A. This won't happen, but just an idea is you could have 1A, 2A, 3A, and 4A based on talent, not size. Coaches could vote at the beginnig of the year on who is in what class. That won't happen, just saying.
You could seed teams in each class, like football does, only include 64 teams. Then teams will have an equal road. Now people say "But a school will have to travel to far on a school night." Get over it. It's one day.

Yeah, Joe. You are right. Excitement has gone down in general. I am a huge St. Pat's fan. The Saint Patrick Stud Section used to be the craziest student section in the state in my opinion. I still think it is when they play Notre Dame. But no students go anymore unless they play ND or Joes. It's not the same. They played at Ignatius in the state playoffs and didn't even have a stud section there. For a state playoff game. That's just sad.

Ok people, Robeson AND St. Viator were in 3A supersectionals. Those teams would have been clobbered by most of the high ranked teams. Hillcrest also gets beat by Simeon, Young, Waukegan, and probably Marshall.

Whatever happened to just being the best you can be and actually EARNING a victory? Just hand everyone a damn trophy now. Kids won't learn anything, and then when things don't go their way, a fight erupts and the parents start crying.

This 4 class system makes me sick.

You are exactly right about youth sports. I have kids. I see it. It's unbearable. Run here, run there. And it leaves you spinning and forgetting all the other options out there for entertainment in your life because you are consumed with practices, games, from sport to sport.

4 class basketball / 8 class football / 3 class track,tennis, golf, etc. In many cases it is now harder to win your conference than win a state championship. The IHSA certainly had good intentions......but with current class guidelines, they have cheapened the value of a state championship and have lost the core fan base of kids, parents, and high school sports junkies. High school basketball fans this past weekend were talking about St. Marys and Northern Iowa.....not Hillcrest and Simeon. Very different from the frenzied crowds of the Sweet Sixteen in Huff Gym in the 50s & 60s.....the Elite 8 crowds in the Assembly Hall in Champaign in the 70s & 80.....and in Peoria in their early years of hosting the tournament.

We say there is nothing we can do about the travesty that is four classes? Yes, we can. And we are. Just look at those empty seats in peoria. We are telling them and doing something about it. Look at the photos in the paper of the state tournament and the empty seats in the background. Just look at the TV screen during the game and see all those empty seats. What a sad sad day.

Darrel,
Where do you get your information from???

"They (CPS) play by the rules and they win. "

I disagree. Many of the successful CPS teams do not 'play by the rules".
Evidence:
1) Two CPS coaches were suspended for illegally recruiting last year (one won a state title last year by illegally recruiting) They are still doing the same thing.
2) One state title winning coach/program changed students grades to keep him eligible. They when an investigation was started, the file just happened to be "missing" (the file folder was later found in an alley with nothing in it.)
3) CPS schools are known for stealing basketball players away from other schools, both CPS and non-CPS. (that is also illegal)
Whether the IHSA enforces a rule or not, it is still a rule. Violating a rule is not "playing by the rules"

Great article Joe. We all knew that the 4 class system would suck. And it does.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on March 22, 2010 2:47 PM.

This Simeon title a little different was the previous entry in this blog.

Sizzling Spearman and more thoughts from Peoria is the next entry in this blog.

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