Opinion: Indiana Hoops Postseason Sticks to Tradition

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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)


Arriving in Evansville from neighboring Illinois in the mid-1980s, I was amazed that the IHSAA's postseason boys' basketball tournament draw was televised on a "regular" station - not cable - ping pong balls and everything.

Maybe there really is something to this "Hoosier Hysteria" stuff, I reasoned. Of course, there were far less entertainment options available back then and the postseason pairings show is now on cable.

Still, IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox thinks his organization has done an admirable job of adjusting to the dramatic changes in our cultural landscape through the years.

"I believe our high school game and our tournaments are in great shape considering the environment we are in during the 21st century," Cox said. "Times have changed, crowds have changed, attitudes have changed. Thank goodness we've changed and adapted to the new challenges we all face. Our student athletes perform at a higher level than ever before."

That is for certain. A high school team with a 6-foot-9 center isn't even considered unusual anymore.

Indiana created a then-controversial four-class postseason format in 1997-98, which sent purists into a state of shock. However, one thing the IHSAA stubbornly holds on to is the blind draw, the latest of which was held Sunday.

All you have to do is look to last year's Class 3A Boonville Sectional to see why seedings are a good idea. Although Memorial had a sub-.500 record, it played far better competition than anyone else in the sectional besides Bosse. If not for Mekhi Lairy's 3-pointer from the corner in the waning seconds that gave the Bulldogs a 67-66 victory, their season would've been over in the first round. Bosse, of course, advanced all the way to the state championship game.

The IHSAA has used a blind draw since its inception in 1911.

"The blind draw is our tradition and it ensures the fairest manner to construct the tournament," Cox said. "The IHSAA is also very concerned with sportsmanship and behavior. Seeding tournaments ensures lopsided scores in the early rounds, which in many cases results in undesirable behaviors. My sense is that the regular season with conference, county and regular season tournament championships are very important."

Still, seedings would also make the regular season more meaningful. With the Sagarin computer ratings readily available, it would be easy to seed the sectionals.

Illinois has some limited forms of seeding for its postseason tournaments since the 1930s, said Matt Troha, assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association.

"We have never used any computer rankings," Troha said. "In the modern era, coaches met and seeded their sectionals prior to the tournament. About a decade ago, we moved all the seeding online."

I used to argue that Illinois' two-class format, implemented in 1971-72, gave the little guy a chance without watering down the tournament format too much. Keep in mind that Illinois has more than twice as many schools as Indiana (currently 815 to 401). That argument fell apart when Illinois went to the four-class format in 2007-08, just like Indiana.

"I think there was a belief that the changing culture of high school sports made it difficult for schools with such varying enrollments to compete against one another," Troha said. "We have 815 member high schools, ranging from schools with 65 students to 8,000-plus."

When asked about perhaps transitioning to three classes, Cox said the IHSAA has entertained proposals about all types of tournament formats "and there has not been a format emerge which is better than the tournament we currently have."

In fact, he doesn't think the current format will ever change, including the two-games-in-one-day regionals, something that doesn't happen any other time in the season. He said if you split the regionals into a Friday-Saturday format, too many people would complain about the travel back and forth to the regional site.

Cox doesn't have an easy answer for a way to rekindle more interest in high school basketball in the larger population bases. There's no way to eliminate scores of college games on TV, for example.

"The reality is there are many more entertainment opportunities for fans than there were in the 1950s and a dwindling population of individuals are still having difficulty adjusting," he said.

"Hoosier Hysteria" is alive and well, if not absolutely thriving.

Contact Gordon Engelhardt at [email protected] or 812-464-7518/@EngGordon

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February 21, 2017


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