Daily Journal Staff Report
In a busy Board of Directors meeting, the Illinois High School Association approved the future sites of four state finals tournaments, but one of those sites stood out above the others — boys basketball is headed back to Champaign.
Beginning in 2021, the State Farm Center, which sits on the campus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, will host the next three IHSA Boys Basketball State Finals. The announcement was made via a news release issued Monday afternoon by the IHSA.
With the return, the tournament will be held in the same place it was from 1919-95. The Peoria Civic Center took over hosting in 1996. Both sites submitted bids, with Champaign emerging as host once again.
“It is bittersweet because there is incredible passion for high school basketball within these two communities, and both have done so much to elevate the state final experience as hosts,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said. “The State Farm Center is one of the best arenas in the country, and we are excited to crown state champions there once again.
“The timing simply felt right to make a change as the tournament format shifts in 2021.”
The shift Anderson spoke of is the move of all four classes to the same weekend. Previously, for both boys and girls basketball, the smaller two classes, 1A and 2A, were held a week before the two larger classes, 3A and 4A. Rather than two two-day formats, all four classes will take part in one three-day format beginning Thursday, with champions crowned Saturday.
“It will definitely be a good situation for basketball fanatics because they will get the opportunity to see all four classes and their different styles of play,” Kankakee basketball coach Chris Pickett said. “People will be able to get to Champaign directly from all points of the state, and it’s going to increase attendance.”
Bishop McNamara’s head basketball coach Adrian Provost seemed to agree with Pickett about the move possibly increasing attendance.
“I do believe that the location is a big thing, especially for the teams north of Interstate 80” Provost said. “Peoria is a trip; Champaign is obviously pretty significantly closer. It’s going to be interesting to see because I think because of the change and it being a little closer to Chicago, it’s going to help the crowd.”
Some local coaches feel as though this definitely will help boost crowds, but others, such as Bradley-Bourbonnais basketball coach Alex Renchen, aren’t as confident based on personal experience in years past.
He believes it all will come down to whether or not athletes and their families will watch all of the state tournament and not just their class size.
“I think that’s a solution to try and make sure the attendance is good that day,” Renchen said. “I think they are recognizing that attendance has been down, and what I’ve noticed is back in the day in the state tournament, you had eight teams vying for the state championship and people would stay to watch that tournament.
“But what I’m noticing now is you still have eight teams down there … but the 3A teams didn’t care about the 4A teams and vice versa.”
Regardless, state hoopers not only will get the chance to play in a better facility, but they also will get to enjoy many more amenities Peoria couldn’t offer any longer.
Aside from recently putting in $170 million dollars into the State Farm Center for renovations, the University of Illinois bid includes interactive fan elements around the arena, city and campus marketing initiatives, a special in-arena area for parents with children and 13 local hotels locking in three-year prices for fans below rack rate, according to Monday’s news release.
This surely will make for an overall more enjoyable experience for the players and their families because of all the downtime they have while playing in the state tournament.
“I think what’s important for any Final Four or state tournament experience, you have to take everyone into consideration when you host, from the little kids to the high school kids to the adults,” Pickett said. “And so having interactions in the lobbies or convention centers or wherever they have it is always good because it will make people want to come down there.
“There is a lot of downtime here at the tournament, so you have to give people something to do, something to participate in and something to look forward to. So, as long they are being creative with those types of things, it will definitely make for a good experience because the State Farm [Center] itself is a definite upgrade.”
Along with the IHSA Boys Basketball State Finals, the IHSA’s Wheelchair Basketball State Tournament and Special Olympics Illinois Unified Basketball Tournament will continue to be held in conjunction with the state tournament in Champaign-Urbana.
The girls basketball state tournaments will remain in Normal at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena during the next three seasons.