By Scott Bertram
The Center Square Contributor
BLOOMINGTON – Changes are coming to the state’s high school basketball tournaments.
The Illinois High School Association Board of Directors has approved a plan to play all-girls state finals games on one weekend and then hold the boys’ state finals on the following weekend.
“In 2021, we’re going to shift to a new format,” said Matt Troha, assistant executive director of the IHSA. “We’ll play each of those tournaments essentially together over the course of one weekend. It’ll be Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The girls’ tournament will conclude with all four state championship games on Saturday and then the boys will follow suit the next weekend.”
Currently, the state finals take place over four weekends, with the Class 1A/2A and 3A/4A girls tournament held on consecutive weekends at Illinois State University.
The following two weekends see the Class 1A/2A and Class 3A/4A boys tournament take place in Peoria. Next year’s 2020 finals will continue under this format.
“What happens with the new schedule is the 1A/2A girls season is pushed back one week and the 3A/4A boys’ schedule is shortened by one week,” Troha said. “With that, there will be some changes forthcoming to the regional, sectional, and super-sectional schedules.”
With the changes, the basketball season will end one week earlier, avoiding a major conflict.
“One of the things we kept hearing from coaches is the NCAA tournament really hurts attendance on that second boys weekend,” Troha said. “We heard from coaches that said they used to travel to Peoria and watch but now stay home and watch the tournament games.”
The adjustment also could eliminate some potential conflicts for high school fans.
“If your team is doing well, maybe your girls’ team is doing well in the sectional and your boys’ team is playing in the regional,” Troha said. “A lot of times you’re splitting your fan base and the ability of the students to go watch.”
Feedback from coaches and athletic directors in advance of the vote was overwhelmingly positive. Teams will continue to play a third-place game as part of the tournament, a point coaches stressed in their comments.
Troha said he is excited for the adjustment and what it might mean for other sports.
“If basketball goes well, it might start a domino effect of looking at all of our events and how we schedule things,” Troha said. “It might make for more changes that are potentially better for the [fan] environment and for the participants.”
At the same time, the board is seeking requests for proposals to host each of the state tournaments from 2021 to 2023. That could mean a venue change as well, but Troha said there’s nothing about the schedule that should prevent Normal or
Peoria from bidding to remain the host cities.
“In terms of venue, we’re kinda wide open,” Troha said. “It could be two separate places again or it could be all in one same spot. We’re going to take them as they come and evaluate them and allow our staff and board to work together to make the best choice for the student-athletes.