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."

Five Things from Blackhawks-Rangers: Duels and denied goals

Five Things from Blackhawks-Rangers: Duels and denied goals

There are a lot of similarities between the Blackhawks and the New York Rangers. Both have a nice record to start this season and both are getting through recent injuries as best they can.

And thanks to their goaltending, they had a pretty fun little battle on Friday night.

Antti Raanta edged Scott Darling as the Rangers took a 1-0 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Friday. It was surprising that Raanta got the start, only because he had started for the Rangers on Thursday against Winnipeg. But he’s been hot, he’s good at the United Center in his career and obviously it was the right decision.

The Blackhawks are back at it on Sunday against another team going through its injury issues, the Dallas Stars. Before then, however, let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ overtime loss to the Rangers.

1. A familiar goalie duel. Two seasons ago Scott Darling and Antti Raanta were fighting for the Blackhawks’ backup goaltending spot. So it seemed fitting that they face each other on Friday night. They didn’t disappoint. Each goaltender had his share of stellar stops, many coming in the second period as each team looked for an edge. Raanta got the victory, running his record at the United Center to 15-0-3. The two had a quick, good-natured talk at the end of the game. “It was all friendly,” Darling said. “We were just saying, ‘good job’ and we’re happy for one another.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

2. Kane alright. Patrick Kane got the concussion protocol call in the second period a few moments after he was hit into the glass by Nick Holden. After Kane was called for high-sticking he was sent to the locker room, returning as the Blackhawks went on their first power play of the night at 17:28 of the second period.

3. The Rangers’ successful challenge. Just when you thought the Blackhawks were taking a 1-0 lead the third period (Marian Hossa), the Rangers challenged for offside. They won, nullifying Hossa’s attempt at his 15th goal of the season. Hossa was disappointed, and is frustrated at how some of the rule changes are taking away goals when the league is trying to increase scoring. Coach Joel Quenneville, when asked if he’d like the rule changed if he could, laughed. “Right now? Sure.”

4. A better all-around game. We may be harping on the Blackhawks’ injury situation but when you’re missing three key guys (Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford) it’s going to alter your game. But the Blackhawks played a strong all-around game against the Rangers and had some good scoring chances. All things considered, and against a very good Rangers team, Quenneville liked what he saw. “We know they’re a dangerous team off the rush, a lot of guys can make plays, a ton of speed. You have to respect that in ways and they check well in their own end,” Quenneville said. “I thought we did some good things. I think on the rush game we did a good job of taking away that danger.”

5. When will the Blackhawks return to health? Yeah, we’re looking ahead a little bit on this one, and we may have a clearer picture by Saturday morning. If Toews and Seabrook are skating and come out of the session well, there’s a chance they could play on Sunday. The Blackhawks have done alright despite the injuries. But you have to wonder when they start feeling a bit depleted.

Rangers win riveting goaltending duel over Blackhawks in overtime

Rangers win riveting goaltending duel over Blackhawks in overtime

When Scott Darling and Antti Raanta vied for the Blackhawks’ backup goaltending job two seasons ago, there was definitely a strong competition. But it was still one built on respect.

“We had no bad blood in that situation,” Darling said on Friday. “We’ve remained friends. He’s having a great season and I’m happy for him.”

On this night, Raanta may have been just a bit happier.

Raanta stopped all 26 shots he saw against his former team, notching his first shutout of this season, and Nick Holden gave the New York Rangers a 1-0 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Friday night. The Blackhawks are 1-2-1 in their last four games but remain atop the Western Conference with 38 points.

The Blackhawks were missing Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford in this one. Nevertheless, it was a tight game, one in which both goaltenders were stellar. Darling stopped 36 of 37 shots – Holden’s overtime winner was the first goaltender allowed to New York in two games against them.

Considering the players missing, the Blackhawks will take the point.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“With or without Toews, you’re always thinking when it’s in the third period and it’s close and getting inside 10 minutes, let’s get it to overtime,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve seen a ton of overtimes in the league. You gotta get the one point. We’ve had some success trying to get the extra one. Tonight, not, but that’s got to be the mindset.”

The Blackhawks were close to taking the 1-0 lead six minutes into the third period, when Marian Hossa thought he scored his 15th goal of the season. But the Rangers challenged for offside. Upon further review, the goal was nullified.

“Well, obviously that’s a tough one,” Hossa said. “I mean, I didn’t notice it was close to offside but obviously with today’s technology, with this new rule, it’s a game of inches. It’s slowing the game down, I think. You’re getting confused, what exactly the coaches are looking for. They created this new rule and we just have to deal with it. But sometimes it’s more frustrating because the league wants to increase the scoring and right now, I think more goals are disallowed because of this.”

Hartman, who had the pass to Hossa, was also disappointed but agreed with the review’s ruling.

“You get your excitement up a little bit and you try not to get too ahead of yourself when you know they are reviewing it. You just try to see it as both ways, if they do call it a goal, if they call it back,” Hartman said. “Obviously it was the right call. It was just a tough one.”

The Blackhawks will take the point out of this one. Despite the players they were without they played a solid game. They had good, quality scoring chances. Their current backup was just slightly bested by their previous one.

“Both [goalies] were great, both [teams] had excellent looks at the net,” Quenneville said. “We missed some good opportunities on 2-on-1s and they had some good looks around Darling as well. Both guys got their teams to overtime, got a point. It’s a good point if you want to look at it like that. I didn’t mind the way we played but Darls was excellent.”