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Simeon's Jabari Parker (22) and Russell Woods (15) block the drive of Morgan Park's Markee Williams. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
One big question remained after last weekend’s boys basketball state tournament.
Who owns Vincennes?
With Simeon and Morgan Park cruising to titles in Class 4A and 3A, respectively, the debate goes on about which South Side power has the state’s best team.
Some see that as an indictment of four-class basketball, which leaves us without an undisputed No. 1, among its other perceived flaws. There’s also a line of thinking that the move from two to four classes in the 2008-09 season has accelerated the decline in interest in the state tournament.
There’s no doubt the buzz around state hoops isn’t what it used to be. When the tournament moved from Champaign’s cavernous Assembly Hall to Peoria’s cozy Carver Arena in the mid-’90s it clearly ratcheted up the excitement level. It also didn’t hurt that Peoria Manual was in the middle of its historic four-peat title run.
But while last year’s Peoria Central team won a 3A championship, there have been fewer local teams to capture the imagination of Peoria hoops fans lately.
And there was a lot of talk last weekend about how attendance would be down because several of the eight teams coming to state likely wouldn’t travel well. But that misses the larger point, which is that the state tournament is no longer what it used to be: a destination event for Illinois’ hoops community.
A few other state finals, including individual wrestling and track and field, remain big draws for fans and coaches even if they don’t have an obvious rooting interest. Can that again be the case for basketball?
Maybe if the IHSA considered class contraction.
The two-class system will never return and there’s really no good argument to be made that it should. The disparity in enrollment between the biggest and smallest schools in the old Class AA and A made for some competitive mismatches that no one — coaches, fans, players — liked.
Still, decreasing the number of classes and increasing the number of state-final venues may be the answer. The three-class model has proved successful for soccer, wrestling and track, while baseball and boys soccer are among the sports with more than one state final site.
The argument for more state finals in the Chicago area is stronger if the tournaments are split with smaller classes staying downstate and the bigger ones staying where the big schools are.
Let Peoria keep the Class 1A and 2A tournaments. The city remains a great host; maybe having one weekend of state basketball instead of two will restore the event’s cachet for local fans.
And imagine a big-school tournament in the United Center, UIC Pavilion or Allstate Arena. Now, going to state becomes a day trip for Chicago-area fans instead of one requiring hours of driving and maybe getting a hotel room.
And in case you’re wondering, the question of whether Simeon or Morgan Park is the best team on Vincennes likely would have been settled on the court. Morgan Park was one of the largest teams in Class 3A and almost certainly would have been in the biggest class in a three-class format along with Simeon.
So let’s expand the debate from who’s the king of the South Side to how that title should be decided down the road.