Two weekends in March, 32 games and eight championships decided.
That sure sounds like a lot of fun and action, and that's exactly what the Illinois High School Association hopes it brings out.
As a result of Monday’s executive board changes, the IHSA girls' basketball state finals will be held on a single weekend in 2021, spanning Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The boys' basketball state finals will have the same Thursday, Friday, and Saturday model and be held one week later.
The 2021 girls' finals will be held during Week 35 (March 4-6, 2021) of the IHSA Standardized calendar, which is currently the weekend of the Class 3A/4A girls' state finals, while the boys' tourney will take place during Week 36 (March 11-13, 2021), previously the week of the 1A/2A boys' state finals.
Riverdale girls' basketball coach Jay Hatch likes the change. Hatch took two of his Alleman girls teams to the Class A state finals, taking third in 2002 and first in 2005.
"I think overall, they had to do something," Hatch said. "From the girls' side, attendance is down bad. It has a lot of good things, especially in Class 1A and 2A girls, because it will lengthen the season a week. It has been hard to get all the games in.
"I think in terms of the boys one of the things this will do is take away the 3A/4A weekend winding up on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament."
Rock Island boys' coach Thom Sigel has won state championships in the small-school level at Rock Falls and large schools at Rocky. Like Hatch, he believes this is needed to get the fans back.
"For whatever reason, the attendance has gone down across the board," Sigel said. "If anything, this will hopefully help increase the interest and the crowds."
Each class will continue to have four state final qualifying teams, while the exact number of games each day and the game times will be finalized in the coming months.
This is a big part, according to Hatch. He has heard many of the plans and likes a 6-6-4 setup with the four state championship game being played on Saturday.
"On Thursday it would be the 1A semifinals, then the 2A semifinals and then the 1A and 2A third-place games," he said. "Then, on Friday it would be the 3A and 4A semifinals with the 3A and 4A third-place games. The four title games on the last day would be great."
Sigel agrees, " I think for the fans, playing the two third-place games on Saturday meant two of the four games were between teams that were not in the winner's bracket. That's nothing against the teams, but if they do have four championship games on one day that will be a big thing."
The IHSA and Hatch are also on the same page that standing pat was not an option for the tournaments. With Hatch saying, "Something has to change" with the current system
“There has been a great deal of support for this new tournament format over the past few months,” said IHSA executive director Craig Anderson. “It was fairly unanimous that most felt like it was worth trying.”
Annawan girls' coach Jason Burkiewicz has taken his Bravettes to the state finals three times, winning Class 1A state titles in 2014 and 2017. He has only one main thought about the change.
"My thoughts are, as long as we are one of the teams there, I don't care what the format is," he said.
Currently, the IHSA state finals take place over four weekends, with the Class 1A and 2A girls' tournament and the Class 3A and 4A girls' tourney being held on consecutive weekends at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena in Normal.
The next two weekends then feature the boys tourney in the same format (1A/2A one weekend, followed by 3A/4A the next) at Carver Arena inside the Peoria Civic Center.
“We obviously have great relationships with both venues and host communities,” said Anderson. “We fully expect both to bid once again, but believe it’s only fair to open up the process in conjunction with these format changes so that they can evaluate if and how it impacts them. We’d be open to having both tournaments at the same venue or continuing to have them in separate venues.”