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IHSA changes team sports tournament structure

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.- On the surface, it doesn’t appear the Illinois High School Association has made any changes to the Class 1A and 2A state basketball tournament, as well as other bracketed sports such as baseball, softball, soccer and volleyball.

But, to the coaches of the teams involved, the impact will be greater – especially when it comes time to seed teams.

The IHSA has responded to schools complaining of long bus trips to assigned regional sites, particularly in Class 1A. And then, there are the age-old complaints of some regionals being tougher than others in hotbed pockets around the state.

So, the IHSA Board of Directors on Monday approved a recommendation to adopt changes presemted by an ad hoc committee dealing with grouping and seeding.

Schools in Class 1A and 2A will still play games at the regional level, but how they are grouped will change. Each school will now be assigned to two Sub-Sectionals (as opposed to four Regionals) that feed into a Sectional site. Each Sub-Sectional will be seeded and the top two seeds sent to different regional sites. The competing regional site of the remaining teams in each Sub-Sectional will be determined by geography. 

“We appreciate the hard work by the ad hoc committee in creating their recommendation. Given the size and diversity of our state, it is very difficult to formulate a state tournament that adheres to the IHSA’s traditional geographic assigning principal, while also attempting to maintain competitive balance at each level of the tournament,” said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman in a press release issued after the decision. “The Board felt like this was a good compromise that will be well-received by coaches and student-athletes around the state. Given the current economic climate we live in, the Board will always be cognizant of travel and its impact, and noted that they will study the impact of this policy change moving forward.”

Using the 2015 boys basketball tournament as a reference, Mt. Carmel was assigned to a 5-team regional in Lawrenceville, which fed into the Benton Sectional along with regional winners from West Frankfort, Carmi and Marshall.

Next year, there will be still be four regionals (with hosts pre-determined), but teams will be assigned differently. “We will now essentially cut that Sectional in half, combining two of those Regionals to form a Sub-Sectional. Sub-Sectional A and Sub-Sectional B,” said IHSA Assistant Executive Director Matt Troha.

Mt. Carmel, based on last year’s grouping, would have been assigned to a 10-team Sub-Sectional B.  Those teams would have been seeded together, with seeds #1 and #3 assigned to a regional in Lawrenceville, seeds #2 and #4 to the other regional in Marshall. The other six teams would have been split evenly between the two regional sites based on geography.

The 11 teams which fed into West Frankfort and Carmi would have been assigned to Sub-Sectional A.

The compromise, as Hickman termed it, comes in shorter trips for most teams. Now only four teams will be seeded, with the other now staying closer to home. And with more teams to seed from, the chance for a better championship game improves.

In addition, schools like Mt. Carmel with smaller gymnasiums can continue to host regional-level games. A move to a straight sectional format, similar to what is used in Chicagoland, would have cost schools like Mt. Carmel a chance to host.

On the downside, coaches and fans will have little advance notice of which teams will be assigned where. That can’t happen until after the coaches seed the teams and the tournament pairings are released, usually only days before the start of post-season play.

Schools in Class 3A and 4A outside of Chicagoland will use the same system.

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