By MATT KOESTERS
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Let me just go ahead and start by saying this: the abolition of class basketball in Indiana would make my job a lot easier.
Instead of worrying about teams in four different tournaments, four different drives to different parts of the state and potentially four different sectional winners, it would be a dream come true — OK, maybe not, but certainly easier — to only have to handle covering one sectional champion the rest of the way.
But just because it’s easier doesn’t make it right.
The four-class system the IHSAA established in the late 90s that separated smaller schools from larger ones in tournament play was the right change to make, and I hope they never switch it back to the old one-class system.
Competitive balance is the key. David and Goliath might make for a compelling story, but it’s only good when David wins the day. Otherwise, it’s the expected result, ho-hum, nothing to see here. And that’s what we’d be getting the vast majority of the time.
Sure, Milan made for a good movie. But we know that most of the time, it’s the bigger schools that win. We’ve had some great stories about teams that aren’t currently classified as Class 4A schools — New Washington in the late 80s, Charlestown in the 50s and early 60s, Clarksville in the 70s. But after brief starts and fits, the crown returned to the larger schools, Jeffersonville and New Albany, and later, Floyd Central after consolidation.
The spotlight shined brighter when a smaller team found its way to the top, but those were fleeting moments.
Now, with the four-class system, we see an even playing field where the smaller schools — which necessarily draw from a smaller talent pool — can match up against schools in similar situations.
This does nothing to minimize the significance of the accomplishment of a smaller school that wins a state championship. Only one of our four area Class A schools has a shot at cutting down the nets during sectional season, only to face a tougher task at regional. The sectionals might be smaller, but there are usually two or three teams in the field every year at every tournament that has a shot.
Take this year. Out in Borden, the Braves are the clear favorite. We don’t expect much from New Washington, but what about last year’s winner, Rock Creek Community Academy? The Lions might not have the talent of last year’s squad, but they’ve played good ball during the home stretch and look like they could give the Braves trouble. And this year’s Christian Academy of Indiana squad could likewise be a threat to upset.
And as for the Class 4A schools?
Things got tougher, and the competition actually benefited the larger schools. These are schools that typically reload rather than rebuild, and they no longer get to feast on the area’s smaller schools with the occasional upset that makes headlines. The gap in talent isn’t as big between schools of similar size, because each draws from a similarly sized pool.
That means that when you go to Seymour to watch this year’s sectional, you’ll see teams that are more evenly matched than you would during a single-class season.
There’s still plenty of drama. There’s still the possibility of an upset here and there. But there’s not as many crushing blowouts that turn into JV games in the fourth quarter.
The multi-class system puts a higher premium on quality coaching, as well. Two teams with similar talent levels? Once you get past the sectional round, you’re going to see wins or losses come down to decisions from the sidelines.
That’s not to say that schools of different size shouldn’t meet during the regular season. Providence has rivalries with each of the area’s biggest schools, while Charlestown and Silver Creek regularly meet Clarksville and Providence each year in the Silver Creek Holiday Tournament. I’m sure each of those coaches would tell you about what winning that tournament means to their programs.
It comes down to making sure that kids at every school get their chance to shine. Recently, we split up our all-area teams into two squads based on class to ensure that the accomplishments of athletes from all backgrounds are recognized. I felt good about that decision when I made it and it was well-received by our readers.
The four-class system has served Indiana as well as any other state. It just means that more Hoosiers have a rooting interest come tournament time.
Contact Matt Koesters at firstname.lastname@example.org.