STEVE HANLON: Do something before it's too late

2013-09-26T17:00:00Z 2014-06-24T18:00:12Z STEVE HANLON: Do something before it's too lateSteve Hanlon Prep Beat nwitimes.com
September 26, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

If one looks at the spiraling downward attendance numbers of Indiana's basketball tournaments, it is beyond shocking. Does anyone remember when they called it Hoosier Hysteria?

John Wooden is spinning over in his blessed grave.

Those in favor of the current four-class system blame it on 100-channel cable television, internet zombies and many more things to do than in the 1950s. Those who hate the current four-class system blame it on the current four-class system.

Both are right.

The Indiana Basketball Coaches Association is working hard to find some compromise that would breathe some life into Larry Bird's game. Our game. It is much closer to flat-lining than anyone believes.

It's almost at a volleyball level.

Only 22,820 fans attended the boys basketball state finals in 2012, the lowest number in history. The overall attendance of 385,024 was the lowest since 1997-98, the first winter of class hoops.

In the semistate in Lafayette, Bowman Academy was one of four teams that played in front of 2,398 fans, the worst number ever.

The girls basketball state finals in Terre Haute only drew 8,475 fans last year.

Hosting it in Terre Haute is one problem. Playing it on the same day as the boys basketball sectional finals is another.

Many agree with the idea of giving more student-athletes more opportunities to win. I agree with that. But who remembers the 2009 Class 3A sectional championship girls basketball game between neighbors Calumet and Griffith? In Knox.

Warriors coach Dori Downing said there were likely 100 people who made the 100-mile drive on icy roads.

"Something has to change," Hobart girls basketball coach Mike Hamacher said. "Basketball is dying in Indiana, and I can't believe I just said that."

In a system based on enrollments and fairness, schools like Hobart, one of the smallest 4A schools in the state, is not getting the level playing field that many of the smaller schools are.

Ben Davis is the state's largest school with 4,687 students. Hobart is 77th with 1,278. The Brickies are in the same class. Might as well go back to one class, right?

"We're the smallest school in a big-school sectional," Hamacher said. "It couldn't be much worse for us."

The IBCA released a tournament hybrid plan that would reduce the classes from four to three. But each class would be divided into two divisions at the sectional level, helping out the small 4As.

Imagine a small-division 3A sectional that included Morton, Highland, Hobart and Lowell. Suddenly, class hoops makes sense to these folks.

Lowell is 85th with 1,220 students. Yet, they travel past three teams closer to Gary than themselves to the West Side Sectional, while Crown Point, Merrillville and Hobart go to Michigan City.

Playing in Gary has hurt Lowell's chances dramatically.

"If I drew up a hybrid, I would leave the classes as they are and split 4A," Lowell boys coach Nate Richie said. "I was not a fan of class basketball, but if you're going to do it along enrollment numbers 4A has the largest disparity."

Mark this down now. If the IBCA plan is not adopted, there will be a fifth class in basketball. It was done in football, and it has to be done in basketball, too, if all is right with the world.

"That would be good for us," Hamacher said. "But I don't know if that would be good for Indiana high school basketball."

I know the IBCA has worked hard on this life-saving plan. It is not perfect, but it is a start. Everyone, including myself, worried about the Whitings of the world 16 years ago when this began.

No one was concerned with the Highlands, Mortons or Lowells.

"I would be in favor of exploring other options, definitely," Hobart boys coach Mike Black said. "We're the smallest school in our sectional and it's the only eight-team 4A sectional in the state. It's nearly impossible for us to beat three Duneland schools in one week."

Let's hope people look at this IBCA plan and support it, even if some tweaking is needed. If not, we'll have five, then six and maybe seven classes.

Yay!

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at steve.hanlon@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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