STEVE HANLON: Pop the popcorn; time to change

2012-11-15T22:00:00Z 2012-12-05T22:22:11Z STEVE HANLON: Pop the popcorn; time to changeSteve Hanlon Prep Beat nwitimes.com
November 15, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

Pop the corn, take off the parka and dance into a hot gymnasium filled with a ton of local talent.

Boys basketball season is here.

I hate to echo the bitter wind that will follow fans into each arena all season, but there is a chilling issue hanging over Hoosier Hysteria right now. The game that once defined our state has been flat lined.

Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Steve Alford and George McGinnis would be spinning in their graves if they were dead.

Last March, Bankers Life Fieldhouse had a vacancy sign lit up. Bowman Academy played in the Class 2A state championship game and every time the Eagles dribbled the few in the stands could hear an echo.

Only 22,820 fans went to the four state championship games in boys hoops, which was the lowest state finals attendance in state history — which means it was the lowest number since Benjamin Harrison went to the White House.

The total tournament attendance of 385,024 was the lowest since the multi-class system began in 1997-98.

The week before, only 2,395 fans went to Lafayette Jeff to see Bowman battle Tipton in the semistate. It was the lowest semistate number ever recorded in the historic gym.

James Naismith once wrote "that while it was invented in Massachusetts, basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport."

He wrote that after going to a state championship game that was standing room only.

As we speak, the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association is surveying all basketball coaches in the state asking if they like the current four-class system, what changes they would like to see, and whether they have any other ideas to make the postseason exciting again.

It pains me to say this, but high school basketball is at a tipping point in Indiana. The sport as we know it will be dead if significant changes aren't made soon.

"Last year wasn't a good year," Wheeler coach Tom Johnson said. "I was shocked by those numbers. We are at a point where people want to discuss something again."

Region fans got a false glimpse of where the game is right now. The Class 4A West Side Sectional was one of the best attended showcases in the state. Getting a ticket to the Class 2A Wheeler Sectional was extremely difficult.

But those were rare, which is why the IHSAA is considering a compromise, some sort of hybrid that can save our sacred game.

"We don't know if last year was a freak thing or a trend that's going to continue happening," said Munster coach Mike Hackett, who is on the IBCA Board of Directors, "but because of what happened last year, it fueled a fire to seek some change."

The current format is badly broken. The girls state finals should be in Indianapolis and should not be on the same night as the boys sectional championship.

Beyond that, the answer to this complexity is above my pay grade. Other than the game we all once loved needs a spark.

"We're at a point where all options need to be looked at," Johnson said.

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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