Good morning, troops. It's Friday, Feb. 15.
From time to time, Nick in the Morning has opined about the decline and fall of the boys high school basketball state tournament. Since 1996, the event has culminated in the state finals at Carver Arena in Peoria.
For the first half of that tenure, Carver was regular host to near-capacity crowds and some pretty good games. The past 10 years or so have seen in sharp decline in both.
There are multiple culprits. The biggest blame lies with the Illinois High School Association's decision to double the number of enrollment classes, from two to four.
Four classes has diluted talent and interest, to the point where less than half of Carver's 11,000-plus seats are full for games. Sometimes a lot less than half.
But this week, the IHSA offered some hope that making the best of a bad situation might become reality soon.
That good news might end up being bad news for Peoria's future chances of playing host to this event.
The IHSA is floating the possibility of taking the two-weekend state finals and merging them into one Thursday-through-Saturday event in which all four classes play semifinals, third-place and title games.
Currently, the finals are held on two consecutive weekends — Classes 1A and 2A on the first, 3A and 4A on the second.
The girls state finals, held the past 28 years at Redbird Arena in Normal, would be conducted the same way.
Contracts with Peoria and Normal to play host to the tournaments expire after next season. The IHSA is seeking opinions regarding the one-weekend proposal, which wouldn't begin until 2021 at the earliest.
Here's our opinion: It's a great idea.
There's a good chance state-finals crowds will increase. The attention of Illinois prep basketball universe no longer will be divided over two weekends. And the finals would end by the start of the NCAA tournament, another competitor for hoopheads' attention.
Presumably, all four high school title games would be played on the final Saturday of the season. That could be a blockbuster, at least as big a blockbuster as the severely flawed four-class format will allow.
Put it this way: What's proposed is far, far better than the status quo. Particularly because four classes isn't going away, alas.
There are concerns about how this proposal might affect the lower stages of the tournament. Will there be enough floor officials to go around if regionals and sectionals in all classes are played the same weeks?
The devil is in the details, and those are yet to be presented.
(We still like the proposal we made last year. Please think about it, IHSA poohbahs?)
Should the current IHSA proposal become reality, it's almost certain to end the Chicago area's hopes of luring the state finals.
The suburb of Hoffman Estates made a play not long ago for the 3A and 4A event, which features larger schools that predominate around Chicago. Some fans and reporters have been agitating for such a venue change.
With all four classes in one location, a move north becomes as unlikely as Gov. JB Pritzker vetoing a $15 minimum wage. Fans of small schools downstate are going to balk, understandably, at traveling up to 600 miles round trip. Not to mention the requisite expenses.
But unlike previous bidding cycles, a unified state-finals weekend makes Champaign-Urbana a much more realistic challenger to Peoria.
State Farm Center (it'll always be Assembly Hall to us) is not the same arena that was the state-finals home for 32 years before the tourney came to Carver.
A multimillion-dollar renovation a few years ago worked wonders for the old dome. We haven't been inside yet, but it looks beautiful.
The renovation also reduced the building's seating capacity somewhat, to about 15,500.
That's still far too big for a two-weekend event, judging from recent tourney crowds. But it might be just fine for one weekend, when the entire state of hoops would be watching.
Make no mistake, Champaign-Urbana will be a serious contender when the state-finals bid process begins later this year. Officials there sound like they're serious about luring back the event.
Peoria officials have to be serious, too.
A major factor will be the fate of the Four Points hotel downtown, which seems to be under a perpetual state of renovation. That hotel has to open, and open soon. Not just for the state finals, but for the general health of the Peoria tourism and convention industry.
How and where a March Madness Experience might be conducted in Champaign-Urbana is a question. The interactive fan event that takes place in the Civic Center exhibition halls during the tournaments isn't duplicated easily.
But again, one weekend might make that easier to stage. It also might make it easier for C-U to recruit Experience volunteers.
A few years back, following another dismal state tourney, we wrote that Peoria had to raise its game to retain what had been the IHSA's crown jewel. It's a diminished event, but it's still worth having.
The new IHSA proposal has the potential to restore at least a little bit of the old state-tourney feel. Peoria just has to make sure the IHSA doesn't return its basketball carnival to its old home.
Whatever decision is made, here's hoping it's not in haste. The song heard on the way to work offers a cautionary tale.