INDIANAPOLIS — If you want to talk class basketball, the Indiana High School Athletic Association will lend an ear.
It’s now 15 years since North’s Cougars won the last all-inclusive state boys’ basketball title, and that passage of time might have taken the class basketball issue off the front burner for some fans.
But anybody who wishes the IHSAA to reconsider the subject can have their say at a series of 11 public meetings at various Hoosier locales from April 10 through May 24.
IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox will be there, listening. State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, who sponsored a bill this past legislative session calling for a return to the traditional tournament, will also attend as many of the meetings as he can make.
Cox and Delph conducted a joint press conference Thursday at the IHSAA offices announcing the series of “town hall” forums. All will transpire at high school venues, and the first is set for April 10 at Fort Wayne Northrop. The others are: Vincennes Lincoln, April 16; Plainfield, April 17; Seymour, April 23; Pendleton Heights, April 24; Merrillville, April 25; Milan, May 1; Plymouth, May 8; Marion, May 10; Connersville, May 16; and Gary Roosevelt, May 24.
Delph said he considered the IHSAA’s willingness to reopen public dialogue on the issue “courageous” and called upon the public to make its views known.
“It is my hope that the public turns out, in overwhelming fashion, and stands with me in demanding that we restore a proud Indiana tradition that made legends and built our identity as a basketball state,” Delph said. “Basketball is part of the national identity of the state of Indiana. As such, it must be respected.
“I asked Bobby (Cox) what he would do if there was an overwhelming public voice for a return to a single-class basketball tournament. He said he’s always encouraged his membership to listen to the voice of their communities, and that’s all we can ask for in this case.”
Delph noted that Article 8 of the Indiana Constitution gives the General Assembly “complete authority” over educational matters within the state, but that some have argued it shouldn’t wield that authority regarding high school athletics. Ultimately, as things currently stand, the 408 high school member principals have the final say in establishing the rules and regulations of the IHSAA, including the basketball tournament.
Former IHSAA Commissioner Blake Ress conducted a 2006 survey of the state’s principals and only 10.6 percent (36 of the 341 to respond) favored returning to the old basketball tournament format.
Cox said that “while the IHSAA is a private, nonprofit membership organization with elected representation, I feel it is important for our organization to listen to the opinions of the general public in an effort to clearly communicate those sentiments to our member schools.”
Hence the town hall meetings. Cox said members of the public will get two minutes apiece to express their opinion, in an effort to allow as many people as possible to speak, and attendees can also indicate their preferences in “straw polls” conducted at the meetings. Athletic directors and coaches can attend the meetings and will also be canvassed electronically. The data collected from the meetings and germane constituences will be turned over to Delph, disseminated to the IHSAA member principals and also released to the public by the IHSAA.
Locations for the meetings were set in conjunction with the six IHSAA regular district gatherings, and five additional locations were suggested by Delph.
Delph said that while he hoped for a groundswell in favor of the old tournament, he’ll accept a different verdict if that is what the response and data show. He also is open to suggestion of alternatives beyond the current four-class system and the old single-class approach.
“We’re not going to pre-judge the outcome,” Delph said. “We’re going to let the process work. If the . response is contrary to my personal position, I’ll respect that. The input we’re trying to seek now is whether the current multi-class system is something you support, or you don’t. And if you don’t, should we try something else? And that ‘something else’ is still on the drawing board.
“This is not about picking on smaller schools (who generally have voted in favor of the multi-class approach), as I understand fully the concerns that Commissioner Cox has, and others (have) as well. Bright minds ought to be able to fashion a path to address those concerns.”
Cox noted that a proposal to alter the current state football tournament format is already pending before the IHSAA this spring, and that he feels “the notion of looking at every single sport with (the same) ‘cookie-cutter approach is fading . but it’s important for the membership to digest the data and contemplate what’s best for the student-athletes and their communities.”