CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The IHSA state tournament as we know will be no more come 2021, when all four classes will start playing during one week from Thursday through Saturday. There are still details to iron out as far as that change goes and Lincoln head coach Neil Alexander says it comes down to scheduling.
“You’re pushing back a week so now you’re cramping 31 games in a week shorter and right now it’s hard to find open dates to play,” Alexander said. “One of the positive things, it gets off the NCAA tournament weekend which I think is one of the major reasons that the IHSA has looked at that.”
The IHSA hasn’t released attendance numbers for the state tournament since 2002, but they are declining. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibly head coach Ryan Tompkins lead his Falcons to their first state finals appearance last year. He’s been attending the tournament since he was in 8th grade and says it doesn’t take long to notice that people aren’t filling the seats anymore.
“Without question, I think probably the biggest reason of doing this is trying to get more people in the stands,” Tompkins said. “This is probably the best thing they could do to try to get it back in the day of when you had 14-15,000 people to watch a state championship or just being there for the whole tournament.”
Format might not be the only change. The IHSA is also opening the bid process to host the tournament that’s called Peoria home since 1996, following 77 years in Champaign. Visit Champaign County Tourism and the University of Illinois are working together to place a bid to get the Final 4 back in C-U.
“It would be great to have the basketball tournament back here,” Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman said. “I think certainly with some of the changes we’ve made to the building (State Farm Center), whether we’re able to get the new downtown arena I think could provide addition amenities for people who are coming into the community for that experience.”
Illini men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood spent time as an assistant at Western Illinois and made trips to the state finals in both Champaign and Peoria back then. He says the boys’ tournament belongs at State Farm Center.
“I think it’s the young people of the state that are losing out,” Underwood said. “It’s no reflection of what’s gone on in Peoria, I’ve been to both but I’m excited. I’d be a very proud head coach to know that the best players in our state and the best coaches year in and year out are stepping foot in what I think is one of the great venues in all of college basketball.”
In a recent Twitter poll, an overwhelming amount of people said they also want the tournament back in Champaign-Urbana. Sixty-six percent of the more than 2,500 votes went to State Farm Center.