BLOOMINGTON — The Illinois High School Association boys and girls state basketball tournaments will go to a single-weekend format beginning in 2021.
The IHSA Board of Directors approved the change Monday. The board also voted to seek Request For Proposals to host each of the state finals tournaments from 2021 to 2023.
The new format calls for the girls state tournament to include all four classes and be held on March 4-6, 2021 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday), with the boys following the same format the next weekend on March 11-13.
The girls event will be on week 35 of the IHSA calendar, which at present is the girls 3A-4A state tournament. The boys will be on week 36, which is currently the boys 1A-2A state tournament.
Each class will continue to have four state final qualifying teams. The number of games each day and game times are yet to be finalized.
“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 release.
"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.”
One impetus for the change was to avoid going head to head with the men's NCAA Tournament. The boys 3A-4A state tournament has been played on the same weekend as the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
“I think having it the weekend before the NCAA Tournament is a great idea," said Normal Community boys coach Dave Witzig. "I think putting them all together is a great idea, too. It will be a great way to showcase all of the state champions at the different levels."
Witzig has taken two NCHS teams to the 4A state finals, placing fourth in 2011 and second in 2015.
"When I saw that plan I thought they did a really good job and had thought it out very well," Witzig said. "We’ve been there twice and it’s really exciting, but I think adding other teams and more fans around there will be good. I think it will just generate a lot of excitement.”
Central Catholic boys coach Jason Welch coached the Saints to the 2A championship in 2014 and a third-place finish in 2018. Like Witzig, he is in favor of the change.
“My initial thought is it will be kind of a neat thing," Welch said. "I think the thought would be it will get more people in the arena, which would make it more exciting.
"Any time you can get them away from the NCAA Tournament it’s good. We all know that’s something people want to watch as well. You’re pulled in two directions.”
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley's boys played in Peoria in March, placing third in 2A. Coach Ryan Tompkins said the new format should help attract the casual fan.
“You get the average fan who just wants to see good basketball and hopefully you can draw them there," Tompkins said. "For a 1A team to be part of what 4A teams are and vice versa, getting the best the state has to offer all together for three days should be pretty cool.”
Eureka girls coach Jerry Prina, whose Hornets placed fourth in 2A in 2018, said he believes most people “will be open to the idea” of the new format.
“There has probably been some research done,” Prina said. “They’ve probably been looking into that for a while and trying to improve attendance.”
Prina pointed out the more public schools that make the finals — regardless of class — the better for attendance. He also said he is “curious” as to how the move will impact officiating with there already being a shortage.
“You’ll have all the regionals at the same time, all the sectionals at the same time, all the super-sectionals at the same time,” he said. “I’m sure there will be some things that pop up as they go and they’ll try to fix as they go.”
The state tournaments currently are played over four weekends, two each for girls and boys, and have experienced sagging attendance. Redbird Arena has been host the girls tournament since 1992 and the boys have played at Peoria's Carver Arena for 24 years.
“We obviously have great relationships with both venues and host communities,” said Anderson. “We fully expect both to bid once again, but believe it’s only fair to open up the process in conjunction with these format changes so that they can evaluate if and how it impacts them.
"We are not tied to any host format. We’d be open to having both tournaments at the same venue or continuing to have them in separate venues.”
The state tournaments will be played under the current four-weekend format in 2020. The new format will be in place for 2021, 2022 and 2023.