By Michael O'Brien

Why do we need four classes?

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This is the final year of two class basketball in Illinois. Is anyone happy about that?

Personally, I just don't see the justification for moving to four classes for basketball. Enrollment means nothing. Ask fans of Lane Tech, Warren, Joliet or Morton.

Take a look at some of the recent Class AA state champions:

In 2004, Peoria Central (883) beat Homewood-Flossmoor (2,641). In 2003, Peoria Central (906) beat Thornwood (2, 572). Three of the Peoria Manual championships (Manual had around 1,000 students at the time) came against high schools with over 2,000 kids (West Aurora, Thornton).

As far as the argument that more teams will win regional and sectional titles, does anyone really care about that?

Lately, we've been very lucky to have the best players in the state battle in the state finals (Livingston vs. Wright, Scheyer vs. Rose, etc.) who wants that to stop?

Instead of finding ways to hand out more trophies, perhaps the IHSA should concentrate on changing the rules they've made that are harming the kids. Wouldn't it be nice if high school coaches were allowed more contact time during the summer? That would limit the influence of AAU coaches and street agents, helping to clean up the game. That's the issue the IHSA should be debating and holding votes on, not how many trophies to hand out in March.

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I think 4 classes is a great thing. Your Peoria Central and Manual argument has no basis since the Peoria schools are non-boundaried schools and kids in Peoria can petition to go to those schools if they offer something they want....that's how the Peoria All-Star teams are always good. How can it possibly be fair that schools with 4000 compete against public schools with 800 or 900...that's ridiculous. The downstate schools and AA schools from throughout the state that argue against it are generally in the 1500-2000 range, so they don't have to face the huge schools with 3000-4000 students. Their paths to Peoria are generally against schools their own size rather than 2, 3, or 4 times their size. When I am speaking here, I'm not refering to private schools since everyone knows they play by their own rules anyway or public schools that are non-boundaried.

At the very least the four champions should play each other. Similar to what Ind. does?

One class was and is the only way to play a state tourmament that means anything, not just something. Nothing was greater than Hebron, Cobden and little St. Anthony's of Effingham falling one point short of knocking off unbeaten LaGrange who survived the scare to win in 1970. Indiana ruined their tournament as well. No more Milans there. No more Hebrons here. It meant much more to GET to the Sweet 16 and to Champaign than to win a watered down tournament...and it meant more for kids from the country or small schools to go man to man with the big kids from the cities. Instead of four classes, why don't they just divide the state into enough classes to have 16 teams in each one...thus, everyone would make the Sweet 16.

The IHSA is a democracy run by its member schools for the benefit of its member schools. It is not run for the benefit of high school sports fans.

In the the IHSA, there are (1) more small schools than large schools (2) more non-Chicago area schools than Chicago area schools and (3) more public schools than private schools.

Because the IHSA is controlled by small, public, non-Chicago area schools, expect to see (1) more classes for basketball in the future like 6 or even 8 classes (2) all major tournaments will continue to be held outside the Chicago area and (3) expect the multiplier to continue to grow to 2.0, 3.0 or even 4.0 or until the private schools stop winning so many state championships in football.

O'Brien says: Kevin, everything you say is true. I find it interesting that the IHSA tends to talk about "number of schools" not "number of kids." I've always wondered why a school with an enrollment of 300 should have the same vote as a school with 3,000 students.

I don't know why we have only four. Why not 50 or 100 or one from every county in the state. Or one for teams with only short players and one for teams with too many left handers and one for teams with long hair, and one for skinheads, and then all white teams and all black teams.Then every poor underappreciated athelete in Illinois could finally feel good about themselves and their poor overprotective parents wouldn't have to worry about the fragile egos of their little babies. iamball

O'Brien: You can't have it both ways. If expansion is bad because school size shouldn't matter, why should school size matter when it comes to the number of votes a school gets at the IHSA?

Most people who argue against expansion seem to take some sort of contradictory stand in their discussion. A lot of the expansion haters seem to be multiplier supporters. I still can't figure out why "watering down" the class A tournament with a multiplier is OK but watering it down with expansion is not.

O'Brien responds: Bill, I think you're comparing apples and oranges. I'm saying school size doesn't matter in basketball. However, when it comes to a statewide decision, someone who lives in Riverton's vote shouldn't be worth 100 times what a resident of Gurnee's vote is worth. That's essentially what happens when each school gets one vote. One principal is speaking for the families of 300 students, the other principal is speaking for the families of 3,000 students.

It's all part of the IHSA attempt to boost sagging self-esteem amongst our student athletes by insuring everyone who participates gets either a ribbon, medal, or trophy.

That way, no feelings are crushed and everyone rides home happy in mom's SUV.

Who cares? Because there are far more small schools in Illinois (nearly twice in the present Class A than AA),the extra trophies will go to smaller schools just like they have in football.I only care about 6A-8A football now,rather than 4A-6A a few years back.The new 4A in basketball will still have the best players and will only concentrate the best teams in the top class.This years 8A playoffs was a great example.
The bonus is that HS kids won't have to play the Three most inportant games of their careers in sometimes 24 hours as in the old format.

Indiana scrapped the "Tournament of Champions" after two years due to lack of fan interest. Neither players, coaches or even fans wanted to play another tournament after winning their class title. Even the media was un-interested.

That said, Indiana, which had the last great one class tourney now has 4 classes and fan interest is WAY down as well as media interest. This is a tourney that used to fill the RCA Dome in Indy with 25,000 to 30,000 fans to watch a High School game and watch players like Glen Robinson, Damon Bailey and others to name a few showcase their talent.

Indiana HS basketball has never been the same and after this year neither will Illinois HS basketball.

Last year, Johnsburg, 890 students, lost to Warren, over 4,000 students, in the sectional final. some sort of equality was needed. I agree with Dan. Play the 4 state winners in a "champions championship" and it would be the ultimate state tournament finale.

Two class hoops.
Four class football with same amount of teams, and you bring back the Wed. playoff game.

There just isn't much difference in the teams.

What matters are the state championship rounds. The 2a and 3a champs.

What bothers me more in the discussion is the AWFUL, and I mean AWFUL job done by the IHSA in how they handle the regionals now.

It reminds of that scene in 'Baseketball' where Dan Patrick is explaining how each team advances.

I just don't get why we can't go back to what was right?
Keep the multiplier for FOOTBALL ONLY.
Go back to the old regionals. Play the prelims even if you have too many 16/17 and 15/18 games.
Bring back the regionals to higher seeds!

It's just been a total screw job by the IHSA over the last six years.

Worst. Administration. Ever.

O'Brien: Every basketball team competes with 5 players. I disagree with your premise that the team with more fans should have greater influence in setting the rules. The Green Bay Packers wouldn't like your idea either.

One more thing - the IHSA does not represent
students, it represents schools. Schools do not have to belong, membership is voluntary (although life would be very difficult if a school did not join).

O'Brien responds: That's a very good point Bill (that the IHSA represents schools and not students), and it might be the root of the problem.

"How can it possibly be fair that schools with 4000 compete against public schools with 800 or 900...that's ridiculous."

Basketball is played with 5 players at a time. It isn't 4000 v. 800.

"Basketball is played with 5 players at a time. It isn't 4000 vs. 800!"

The schools with 4000 have essentially 5 times the amount of kids to choose from that are trying out. There's a good chance that if 200 boys are trying out for the team compared to 40 that there are going to be many many more talented players...that only makes sense. So what's your argument?? You need only 5 good players yes...but don't you think schools with 4000 are going to have a better chance of having 5 solid players than a school of 800...the numbers only make sense!

Hey Roger - are the odds of five 'good' players greater when choosing from a pool of 4000 vs 800? Yes. They are.

I was lucky enough to play for a state basketball champion a few years back using the 2 class system. Most of the teams we beat had much larger enrollments and MUCH, MUCH better facilities. A 4 class system would have made that accomplishment that much easier, and that much less special. Perhaps every senior in the state could fill out a form spelling out his/her favorite sport, then the IHSA could give them a state championship medal for that sport. That way mommy, daddy, and kid will all feel really good about themselves, and nobody will have to be "left out" after their team loses in the state tournament. The crybaby's have already screwed up football with the 8 classes and the mulitplyer, leave basketball alone!!!!!!

Maybe the IHSA will take the IHSA soccer approach, give everyone a trophy, a juice box, orange slices and call every team a champion ?

This is going screw the large downstate schools like Moline,East Stl.,Pekin they are going to have to travel all over the place to play games.Also it will hurt the ticket revenue for I will be less likely to go 3 hrs. away for a regional games during the week.This will stink now you win 3 gms. and you are sweet 16

The IHSA has to admit what is their goal. Is it to have a true champion, or happy principals? If you want four classes, fine. But have it based on performance, not enrollment. If you've never won a regional in basketball, you should be in 1A. If you're in the Sweet 16 every year, maybe you should be in 4A even if you only have 250 students. Teams that go 24-6 year after year in 1A should be forced to start in 2A. Teams that go 8-22 in 4A year after year should be shoved down to 3A or maybe even 2A.

First, don't tell me that schools with smaller enrollments can't compete with larger schools. If that was true then why haven't the Stevensons, Warrens, and New Triers of the world dominated all the state titles in basketball? Obviously there is an advantage to having more students, but that advantage is fading with specialization among high school athletes. Even bigger schools are having fewer kids tryout as they focus on single sports.
Second, I want the title of State Champion to mean something. I can't even keep track of who wins in football because there are 8 champs each year, but everyone knows that Simeon was the champ in AA last year because it is far more significant.
Finally, let's talk about the real reason for the switch, MONEY. The 4 class system will guarantee that all 8 teams and a lot of there fans will stick around for both Friday and Saturday, and so will there wallets. Under the 2 class system half the teams left after the games on Friday and Peoria lost out on revenue. Just like the pros and college, this decision comes down to the opportunity to make more money. I am dreading the change, but money talks.

You folks who like it need to talk to us folks who have followed Indiana High School basketball most of our lives. ITS RUINED INDIANA HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL. Under the old system, you had to pay $100 to scalp a ticket for the finals. Now nobody goes.

Dan: Only 4 teams will go to state for each class. Your argument makes no sense.
John: The Muncie newspaper completely discredited the idea that expansion led to declining attendance in Indiana. Attendance in Illinois sports has increased after previous expansions.
The argument of expansion haters is this:"Expansion makes the games less meaningful". But to whom? Certainly to those people, but the games are not any less meaningful to the players and fans who win the titles. 20 years from now you'll have no idea who won the AA tourny in 2007. But the players will remember. Sorry folks, high school sports are for the athletes, not for you.

Mervin: 4 class A teams and 4 class AA teams will be at the tournament the first weekend (that's 8 if you're counting). Then 4 class AAA and 4 class AAAA teams the second weekend. The semi's on Friday and the Championship and 3rd place game on Saturday. This means all 8 teams will stay the whole weekend for both weekends. What part of this doesn't make sense?

The whole argument against expansion is moot. Schools that oppose expansion can petition the IHSA to particpate in 4A and everyone will be happy.

PS: Don't hold your breath. I predict that fewer than 10 of 750 schools will petition to move up. There is tons of peer pressure amongst coaches to say they hate expansion. In reality almost every coach would rather win a 3A title than lose a 4A title.

O'Brien responds: Of course any coach would rather win than lose. The argument isn't moot because schools can move into 4A. If anything, the argument is growing every day. Yesterday, the Peoria Journal-Star's blog posted some interesting comments from downstate coaches regarding the expansion. It's pretty clear that if a vote was taken now, expansion would be shot down.

"It's pretty clear that if a vote was taken now, expansion would be shot down."

Are you kidding me? Expansion won by a landslide in the advisory referendum. The same margin held during the second vote at the mandatory IHSA town hall meetings.

Why exactly do the anecdotal meanderings of the extremely biased Nick Vlahos prove that expansion would now be defeated in a third vote of schools?

O'Brien responds: I could be wrong, but it is my understanding that there has never been a full referendum with every school in the state voting.

No way, this is the "extremely biased" Nick Vlahos. I was alerted that my name was on Mike's fine blog, so of course I had to check it out. :)

I assure you, there was nothing biased about any of it. I simply asked every coach with Illinois ties this question: "What do you think about the four-class system?" Whatever they said, I was going to write. To a man, they all said the same thing. And always in the same way -- angry.

Frankly, their responses are no different from what I've head from 99 percent of the coaches, athletics directors and principals I've asked since January about this thing.

And no, there never has been a binding, statewide referendum on this issue. In a change of this magnitude, surveys and straw polls don't cut it.

O'Brien: You said "It's pretty clear that if a vote was taken now, expansion would be shot down."

I'm just asking if you have any proof to back up that statement other than the antecdotal evidence of an expansion opponent who says "99% of the coaches, athletics(sic) directors and principals I've asked since January" are against it.

I mean heck, 100% of the coaches, athletic directors and principals I've asked since January are for it! Does that mean if a vote was taken now, expansion would pass?

The IHSA is a form of representational government. Schools elect board members to represent them. If the majority of schools really do hate expansion they will elect board members who agree with them and the whole thing will be reversed.

But that's not going to happen because the majority of schools want expansion, as they have already demonstrated in two votes. I admit the votes were non-binding, but absent any evidence to the contrary, I doubt a 2-1 victory in two votes would change simply because the terminology was changed to "binding".

O'Brien responds: Nope, I don't have any proof, just what I've read and what people have told me. I can tell you that the Public League (almost 80 schools) seems to be near 100% against expansion. I don't think even a handful of Public League schools have voted in these referendums. They could almost single-handedly change the vote.

It's interesting to see Nick Vlahos check in and deflect questions of bias.

He's on record at the PJSTAR website saying he'd be against expansion "even if attendance quadrupled".

First Rule of Journalism: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Mr. Gay: Seems like you just can't imagine there are people in the world who think this is a bad idea, can you?

Here was the scorecard, my friend:

Number of people interviewed: Five

Number of people opposed: Five

I wish I were a mind reader, and I could have told you I chose those people because I knew what their answers would be, but I'm not that good. If I had that ability, I'd be in Las Vegas, making a lot more money than I am now.

No secret on how I feel about class expansion -- I'm against it. So, apparently, is Mike. But I think I can speak for both of us by saying that if the responses had been the other way, we would have printed those, too.

Instead of railing against us, you might be better served asking the IHSA to finally conduct a ballot on this issue. Then we can settle it once and for all.

Oh, and to Burger Hoop Fan, on the Johnsburg-Warren matchup: Apparently you forgot that J'Burg, with even fewer students in 2003, went all the way to the Elite Eight. Were you making excuses then?

OB: Attendance at the Town Hall meetings where the second vote was taken is mandatory for every school. If the Public League schools blew off the meeting they will be sanctioned by the IHSA.

Also, I believe you may be under the mistaken impression that basketball coaches vote at the IHSA. They do not. The school's IHSA Rep (most typically the Principal) votes in the interests of all their athletes, not just basketball players.

I have no doubt that basketball coaches oppose the expansion. Their association took a vote and they voted against it. I do not question their methods of voting just because I do not like the results. I do not call for a binding referendum vote from the players because I don't like how the coaches voted. I accept the results of their vote.

Unfortunately for expansion foes The IHSA does not care what basketball coaches (or any coaches for that matter) think.

Again, if the majority of schools really hate expansion they will replace the IHSA board members who voted for it and it will be reversed. But it's not going to happen because the majority of schools want expansion.

O'Brien responds: I'm aware that the principals vote. And it was my understanding that most schools (not just Public League) didn't vote in the referendum. Seems like it was one of those things that no one took seriously until it was too late.

Nick, are you saying that you will fully support expansion if all schools vote and the majority vote in favor? Cool. I will fully support non-expansion if they vote against it. But wait. The IHSA isn't going to take a vote. What can we do?

I'VE GOT IT! You're a prep sports journalist. You can take the vote! I'll help - the name of every school Rep is listed at along with their phone number and email address. Take the vote and print the results. It would be phenomenal journalism.

By the way, I do believe that O'Brien would print antecdotes regarding coaches' opinions no matter which way they leaned.

I am surprised that you didn't know what basketball coaches would say when you asked them about expansion. Every coach belongs to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and their membership voted overwhelmingly against expansion long ago. It's been pretty well publicized, especially among expansion foes.

On a different subject, I was in the vegetable section of a Whole Foods in San Francisco recently and asked five people what they thought about eating meat. Every single one of them was against it. I guess no one wants to eat meat.

The first vote was a non-binding referendum. The participation rate was typical for an IHSA vote (and pretty much the same as most government elections). It's quite possible that schools did not fully understand the implications. Expansion was favored by about 2-1.

But then the IHSA implemented expansion and EVERYONE immediately understood the implications. Opponents submitted several proposals for legislative changes that would stop expansion.

Per IHSA by-laws, anti-expansion proposals were presented at IHSA "Town Hall" meetings. Attendance is mandatory, as is detailed in this IHSA bylaw:

"IHSA By-law 3.120 requires attendance by the principal or principal’s designee at an annual Town Meeting/Principals Rules Meeting. The meetings will begin at 9:00 a.m. with a presentation and review of the current legislative proposals by the Legislative Commission Member representing your District and an IHSA staff member."

The IHSA presented the anti-expansion proposals at these mandatory meetings and immediately took another vote to see if there was enough support to put the issue on a formal ballot. Every school was in attendance, every school fully understood the consequences, and expansion was still favored by the same 2-1 margin.

It would have been nice if they had a formal ballot just to see what "straw man" would be put forth by anti-expansion zealots after they lost the vote for a third time. I suppose some would have blamed Diebold : )

Alas, it will not happen unless Nick takes up the challenge and gathers the votes himself.


O'Brien responds: The numbers are pretty indisputable. 273 of 752 member schools are in favor of expansion. No one really cares about the IHSA's town hall meetings, which is probably why this ended up happening.

Mr. Gay: If you're questioning my journalistic standards, then I guess I have nothing more to say to you.

Not every coach is an IBCA member nor agrees with its positions. I never said five responses signified a majority. They were what they were, and I said that here and in print.

But based on two posts, one of which directly attacks how I earn a living, I think I can safely draw a conclusion about you. And it isn't a favorable one.

Try to have a nice day,

I agree that the numbers are indisputable. 273 schools want expansion. 153 schools do not. You have ended the (useless, but fun) debate.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to play. I appreciate your thoughts and respect your opinion. Despite the dreaded expansion I'm pretty sure you'll still enjoy high school sports next year.

O'Brien responds: Useless is right. "No Way" you can argue the merits of expansion all you want, and you can fully support it. But it's a fallacy to claim that the majority of the state is in favor of it. I honestly haven't met anyone that is in favor of it and I spend every night at a high school sporting event in a different town. Chicago, Schaumburg, Joliet, Oak Forest, Country Club Hills, Wilmette, Harvey, Chicago Heights... And it sounds like Nick has found the same thing in Peoria.

Nick: I apologize if my comments were construed as questioning your journalistic standards. I do not question those standards and officially authorize Mr. O'Brien to remove that post. I will repose the only relevant question for you right here:

Will you fully support expansion if a full member vote is taken and the majority supports expansion?

Apology accepted, Mr. Gay. Sports is fun and games, after all, but credibility is something I do take seriously. I apologize for getting a bit peeved.

Will I fully support expansion if the majority wants it? I'll never "support" it personally, but the majority rules. If a fair vote is taken, not intertwined with the multiplier or anything else, and that's the result, then I guess we'll have to live with it.

I do, however, think the state tournament will be a shell of its current self five years from now if four classes goes through. Time will tell, but I don't think it's worth the risk.


PS -- I wouldn't be opposed to settling this on a sport-by-sport basis. I think there might be support for four classes in some sports (like baseball) but not in others (like basketball). And if you've followed my columns on this, if we're stuck with four classes, I think 1A-2A and 3A-4A "Elite Eights" would be a good compromise.

Stop this nonsense! 4 class basketball is the death of the greatest high school show on earth (since Indiana went to the 4 class system)!!!! 4 class is a copout by some who saw the only way to compete would be to make the road easier. Perhaps Kevin from above (posted 11/29/06) says it best. Why don't we just have a hundred classes with eight in each class so we can have more state champions. I think class AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA would just pack em in and we would all remember that champion for many years (perhaps better than the '71 Thornridge Falcons). The 4 class system is just another superficial idea that reflects our society of today. We're all winners? Just ask the business world about entrance people of today and their mentality of what a winner is when they quite possibly never had to work very hard for anything. I believe that the business leaders will tell you that there is a big problem.
If anything, go back to the one class system and the districts. You want to talk about excitement, imagine just competing in your area districts and regionals and how much it would mean just to win one of those. Now you have student/athletes who would be playing for something each and every game and realizing what the real world is actually like. There are no 4 class systems when you go to get a job. It's you vs. many and it's one class baby, no matter where you went to college, what background you're from, your ACT score, or your overall GPA. Welcome to the real world.
Let's get real people.

Just a side note: If you can get your hands on the book Hoosiers Classified: Indiana's Love Affair With One-Class Basketball by Bob Hammel, I highly recommend it. It was written in the last year of their single class tourney (1996-97). It talks about a long-time fan speaking after a heartbreaking loss in the first round of the tournament. The fan's quote, "Now why the hell would anyone want class basketball?" As Hammel states, It was wonderful. Even in defeat he treasured the heart of the 10 kids put on display and the sectional tournament competitiveness (which is the equivalent of Ill. regional.) I think that sums it all up. True competitors want to compete against the best, not the watered down.

People. there is only ONE way to run a tournament in high school basketball. The way it was for 80 years. ONE CLASS..can anyone remember who won the class A champion in 1990 or 2000 for that matter. of course not. But everyone can tell you when Hebron won or any little school brought the WHOLE town and every surrounding town to CU (and the tourny needs to be brought back to CU like it should be). but nothing matched the small school VS. large school format.. NOTHING! You want people to fill the big halls then put goliath vs. david. again. Winning a small school or now possibly a 4 class tourny is offensive to true b ball fans. and players. You want to know you are the best. not the best in your class. If it only happens once every 50 years. The small school and every player on the team is remembered by EVERYONE for EVER. BRING BACK THE SINGLE CLASS SYSTEM. GET SOME GUTS AND BRING BACK THE PURITY OF TRUE COMPETITION.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael O'Brien published on November 28, 2006 12:42 PM.

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