4-Class system? Yes or no?

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4-Class system? Yes or no?

The four-class format for high school basketball in Illinois has been a major topic of controversy ever since the Illinois High School Association opted to give its signature event its second major face-lift in 2008.

From 1908 through 1971, the state tournament was a one-for-all and all-for-one competition involving all schools, big and small, urban and rural.

In 1972, when the IHSA began to feel that small schools were no longer competitive with larger schools, the two-class system was introduced, thanks in large part to the lobbying of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association.

In 2008, the IHSA adopted a four-class system.

"We went from two to four classes because that's what our membership wanted," said Marty Hickman, executive director of the IHSA. "Numerous people brought it to the forefront. We talked about it for years. They felt at the very beginning of the tournament that it was very difficult for some schools to compete in their class."

Hickman pointed out that schools in Class A with enrollments of 100 to 250 and schools in Class AA with enrollments of 800 to 1,500 were particularly affected. They felt they couldn't compete with larger schools in their class. They proposed that two more classes were needed to level the playing field for one and all.

Hickman is aware of the criticism to this point, that the caliber of competition has weakened, that the tournament is too watered down and the lack of quality is reflected in declining attendance. He once said the IHSA would scuttle the four-class system if it became clear that it wasn't working. But he isn't ready to toss in the towel.

"At the end of the day, 10 to 15 years from now, people will say it was a good change," Hickman said. "At first, there will be a significant amount of controversy, as there was in 1972. But when you look at how the schools viewed that change, clearly more schools are supportive of the change now than when we went from one to two classes. In the schools, this isn't the controversy that it is in the general public and media."

But critics insist the four-class format isn't working. They call for a return to the two-class system. In fact, some still argue that the one-class system was best of all, that there never should been any change. They contend that the great tradition and historical significance of the state tournament have been wiped out.

"What we are seeing in (the girls state basketball tournament) this year is not an anomaly. This is the four-class monster that has been created," one veteran observer said.

He spoke after watching Quincy Notre Dame crush Breese Central in the girls Class 2A championship. And he re-emphasized his displeasure after Montini dumped Vernon Hills 56-38 for the Class 3A title and Whitney Young trounced Edwardsville 63-51 in the Class 4A final.

Will the boys' finals be any closer? Any more competitive? Any less embarrassing?

"It is sad when I hear adults talking about more kids having the experience of being given trophies," former La Grange coach Ron Nikcevich said. "But you never hear it from kids. They want to play the best."

Nikcevich, who guided La Grange to the Class AA championship in 1970, was opposed to the two-class system from the outset. So you can imagine how he feels about four classes.

"I always felt that the Illinois state basketball tournament was such a great and grand event," he said. "For an Illinois citizen, it might have been the greatest sporting event of any kind. He or she would look forward to that event far more than the World Series or Final Four.

"I think of old Huff Gym, the clamor for tickets during the time before television. Then television came (in 1952) and there still was a clamor for tickets. Then came the Assembly Hall (in 1963)...sellouts, ticket scalpers, brokers...it was so special.

"Illinois high school basketball is the best high school basketball I the United States because of its consistency...tradition, teams, coaches, players, customs. There was a romance to the Illinois high school tournament. You have to be a historian to appreciate Hebron and Cobden and the small schools that came to Champaign and electrified the crowd."

Then came the two-class system in 1972 and everything began to change for the worse, Nikcevich said. "The class system was sprung on us and it almost had something clandestine about the manner in which it happened. Of the total number of votes eligible to be cast, the biggest percentage was those who failed to vote," he said.

"I agree the small schools got an identity and drew big crowds. But the big-class tournament took a major hit. Since the inception of the two-class system, how many sellouts did the Assembly Hall have? What happened to the Downstate schools that used to be such a presence in the state tournament...Collinsville, Benton, Mount Vernon, Centralia, Paris?"

Instead, Nikcevich argues that the state tournament has been put into the hands of backroom politicians who exist within the structure of the Illinois educational system, the establishment, who have put together a defense mechanism anticipating an outcry against their position and have completely repudiated the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's stand against it.

"There is only one Eiffel Tower, only one Taj Mahal, only one Mona Lisa, only one Hope diamond, only one Bible, only one Koran," Nikcevich said. "When you take things of that magnitude and majesty and say to a person: 'Don't go to Eiffel A, the Eiffel AAA is better. Don't go to Taj Mahal A, go to Taj Mahal AAA,' we've lost the majesty of what the state tournament was."

Former Pinckneyville coach Dick Corn, who won two state titles in Class A after the school won a state title in the one-class system in 1948, prefers the two-class system. "For the health of high school basketball in Illinois, we need to stay with two classes," he said.

"If you study Indiana and Missouri, people don't identify with their state champions. Missouri has five, Indiana has four. But the IHSA isn't listening to the coaches. The IBCA's board of directors voted 31-1 against the four-class format. Only one coach wanted to see change. Our former players (at Pinckneyville) would vote to stay with two classes."

Steve Goers, who retired at Rockford Boylan as the winningest coach in state history and is a former president of the IBCA, said the IHSA "is throwing tradition out the window. Why is the IHSA doing this? They want to please everybody. They want to make everybody happy, to give people who never have been to Peoria a chance to go to Peoria," he said.

Ron Ferguson, who coached Thornridge to state titles in 1971 (one class) and 1972 (two classes), said he wasn't for the two-class system originally but came to realize that it was a good idea. But four classes? He'll have to be convinced all over again.

"The two-class system allowed other teams to be competitive. It brought the South back to the state tournament," he said. "But I'm not for four classes. I could be wrong and change my opinion but I think tradition will be gone so more teams will get trophies. Going to the state tournament won't feel the same."

Breaking down the Bears' 2016 draft class on 'Draft Central'

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Breaking down the Bears' 2016 draft class on 'Draft Central'

With the 2016 NFL Draft in the books, the 2016 Bears are coming into focus.

Sunday night, CSN broke down the weekend that was — a busy one for the Bears, featuring not just the draft but also the addition of a backup quarterback and the subtraction of veterans Matt Slauson and Antrel Rolle.

So where do the Bears stand? Click on the links below to hear from Chris Boden, Jim Miller, Dave Wannstedt and Hub Arkush as they recap the draft and the rest of the Bears' offseason.

— Draft Central: Initial impressions of Bears' draft class

— Draft Central: Scouting first-round pick Leonard Floyd

— Draft Central: Bears move around in Round 2

— Draft Central: A look at the Bears' post-draft depth chart

— Draft Central: Bears release Matt Slauson, Antrel Rolle

— Draft Central: Bears add Brian Hoyer as Jay Cutler backup

Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

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Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

Addison Russell strolled out of the Cubs locker room wearing a baggy pinstriped suit with a smile plastered across his face.

He paused for a second and looked back to see Kris Bryant in his American flag suit (complete with American flag shoes) and the rest of his teammates and coaches following suit.

Russell smiled wider and continued the march toward the team bus to the airport.

This was only hours after the sophomore shortstop committed the costly error that led to the worst team in baseball (Atlanta Braves) notching a series split with the best team in the game at Wrigley Field.

Forget the loss. Move on.

Yeah, the Cubs are feeling good about themselves right now.

As they should.

The Cubs ended April with the best record in baseball (17-5), living up to the hype they created after a wild offseason and throughout a wacky spring training.

Things would have been so much difficult if the Cubs had not gotten off to a hot start in a city that watched the Bulls crash and burn and miss the playoffs while the Blackhawks were knocked out in the first round.

Imagine how the city and its sports fans would have responded if the red-hot White Sox was the only baseball team looking like a contender 1/6 of the way through the season.

As the Cubs face their toughest test of the season to date with seven straight games against two of the best teams in the league (Pirates, Nationals), let's look back at the five biggest takeaways from the campaign to date:

1. Jake Arrieta has picked up right where he left off.

Everybody wanted to know what Arrieta would do as an encore to follow up his 2015 Cy Young season in which he put up the best second half the game has ever seen.

How about 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and a no-hitter? It's crazy to think Arrieta could be better than he was last season, but he's making it true with each outing. 

At the very least, Arrieta has picked up right where he left off and might well be the best pitcher in the game (though Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale would surely have something to say about that).

2. The pitching staff has carried the Cubs.

Even beyond Arrieta, the Cubs pitching staff as a whole has been fantastic. Only the Washington Nationals have a better team ERA entering play Monday. Cubs pitchers also have a batting average against of under .200, tops in the big leagues.

It helps when Arrieta, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel have combined to allow just 13 earned runs in 94 1/3 innings. John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks haven't been bad, either, as the rotation has recorded 18 quality starts in 23 tries.

The back end of the bullpen has been clicking, too, as Hector Rondon allowed his first run of the season Sunday, while Adam Warren still hasn't given up an earned run in eight innings and Pedro Strop is locked in (2.89 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 13 Ks in 9 1/3 innings).

The Cubs pitching staff has also gotten it done at the plate, driving in eight runs on 10 hits.

"This month was the pitcher," Bryant said. "They were unbelievable and they hit pretty good, too, so they kinda picked themselves up at times. ... The pitchers have carried us the whole month."

3. This team is much improved defensively.

Theo Epstein's front office identified the weaknesses of last year's team that ran into the brick wall that was the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series and one of the main issues was defense — particularly outfield defense.

Gold Glover Jason Heyward's defense has been as good as advertised, with the big free agent acquisition gunning down baserunners and diving all over the outfield.

Dexter Fowler has earned positive grades defensively, too, as the Cubs forced him to play a little deeper in center field.

Bryant has looked solid in left field and at third base, and Ben Zobrist's steady glove at second has been a welcome addition in an infield that already boasts elite defenders in Russell and Anthony Rizzo.

"Defensively, we've caught the ball," Joe Maddon said. "We've played catch well. Everybody's talking about the offense, but primarily, it's been pitching and the defense that's set this whole thing up."

4. This team doesn't wilt in the face of adversity.

The Cubs had remarkably good luck on the injury front in 2015, but it took until only the second inning of the third game in 2016 for the first major blow.

Kyle Schwarber is lost for the season, yet the Cubs had just one letdown game after that news before righting the ship and marching forward without "Fast Hulk" in the lineup.

If somebody predicted the Cubs would be 17-5 in the first month of the season without Schwarber even collecting a hit, they would've been laughed off the internet.

Maddon and his coaching staff have seen just about everything there is to see in this game, and they have a stable of veterans like David Ross, Lester, Lackey and Zobrist who know what it takes to rise above adversity and keep everybody pulling on the same rope.

5. The Cubs haven't reached their peak.

Everybody is talking about a Cubs offense that ended the weekend with the second-most runs scored in baseball.

But the reality is, this lineup really hasn't hit its groove yet, scoring most of their runs with timely hitting and an insanely patient approach that keeps the conga line moving on the basepaths.

Yet Zobrist, Rizzo, Russell, Heyward, Miguel Montero and Jorge Soler are all hitting .250 or below, and Schwarber notched just four at-bats before tragedy struck.

Imagine what this offense will do when everything gets clicking and the weather starts to warm up.

"A lot of us are just getting going," Bryant said. "It'll be fun to see when things are clicking when the pitching's going good and the hitting's going good."

That feeling is mutual around the clubhouse.

"We have some work to do in general," Heyward said. "We're not hitting on all cylinders right now. We're not clicking consistently."

So does that mean the Cubs are expecting months where they finish with a better record than April's 17-5?

"I'd love to just keep doing that every month," Maddon said. "I'd be happy with that. We've played pretty well this entire month. It's hard to knock our guys right now.

"Offensively, defensively, pitching — the baserunning's been really good. To be able to sustain all those components would be great. I think you're gonna see guys actually hit better. A lot of our offense has been just based on some really good at-bats, some timely hitting.

"But just to purely go out there and just literally knock the cover off the ball, we haven't done that yet. So I think there's an offensive push that we're capable of.

"You just look at the numbers in general, and there are guys that are capable of more, numerically speaking. You probably will see more come from the offense."

Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

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Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pirates on Monday night, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies live from Pittsburgh for first pitch at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (3-0, 0.75 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (2-2, 2.78 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you're ready for the action.

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