The Illinois High School Association boys and girls basketball state finals format is getting a new look.
The IHSA Board of Directors announced Monday that the state finals will be held over one weekend for girls basketball and the next weekend for boys basketball, starting in 2021.
The finals are currently scheduled across four two-day weekends. The girls games were played Fridays and Saturdays at Illinois State's Redbird Arena, with Class 1A and 2A the first weekend and Class 3A and 4A the second weekend. The boys games were played on Fridays and Saturdays at the Peoria Civic Center with Class 1A and 2A the third weekend and Class 3A and 4A the fourth weekend.
However, under the new guidelines the finals would take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
While the Board is still accepting venue proposals, the girls finals are slated for March 4-6, 2021, and the boys finals will take place March 11-13, 2021. The new format will be in effect from 2021-2023.
“There has been a great deal of support for this new tournament format over the past few months,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a press release on the organization's website. “We tried to be as transparent as possible, communicating the idea and seeking feedback from basketball coaches and school administrators throughout the state in a variety of ways. It was fairly unanimous that most felt like it was an idea worth trying.”
All four classes (Class 1A-4A) will play their championship games on Saturday, and Marian Catholic athletic director Kevin Kelly believes a big reason why the IHSA made the switch is to try to generate bigger crowds. He has been working at Marian Catholic for the past 20 years and also used to be a sports editor for The Star when the state finals were held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
During his career, Kelly has witnessed packed arenas during the final days of prep basketball seasons. However, he doesn’t know if the IHSA will ever have the turnout it once had in the past.
“Back then it was just such a tradition,” Kelly said Friday. “Whether you had a team involved or not, I think there were a lot of people headed to Champaign come state tournament time. Unfortunately, you just don’t have that same energy or excitement there was at one time.”
IHSA Assistant Executive Director Matt Troha told the Decatur (Illinois) Herald & Review in April that the IHSA has noticed that attendance is dwindling at the state finals, which led to discussions about how to reinvigorate the event.
Marc Brewe has been the athletic director at TF South for the past decade and was also the Rebels’ boys basketball coach for seven seasons. Throughout the years, he has seen a decline in attendance as well and looks at the IHSA’s change in format as a trial period.
He isn’t sure if it will make a significant difference. But aside from the crowd, he anticipates that having all of the teams compete over the same weekend and vie for a championship on the same day will provide an opportunity for players across the state to get a view of their counterparts.
“I know a lot of the kids who play AAU all know each other, which has really changed since I first started coaching,” Brewe said. “Being in one place will give the top players a chance to see kids at smaller and bigger schools that they normally wouldn’t see during the school season.”