O’Brien: Four classes led to Public League dominance, but has it hurt overall interest?

Morgan Park wins the Class 3A state championship game over Springfield Southeast,Saturday 03-17-18. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

PEORIA — Young came up a bit short in overtime to Belleville West in the Class 4A state title game. Maybe that will give the rest of the state a much needed shot in the arm, but the Public League is still the dominant force in high school basketball.

Orr repeated as Class 2A champs last weekend and Morgan Park repeated as Class 3A champions. Young was in the title game for the second consecutive season.

The Public League has been collecting state championships since the Illinois High School Association expanded basketball from two classes to four classes in 2008.

Public League schools have won 17 of the 42 titles awarded since 2008 and that is with very few schools eligible in Class 1A.

“That’s what the IHSA wanted,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “They went to the four class system. We are just doing what they told us to do. At first we didn’t like it, but once we saw we could go down in multiple classes and be effective that changed.”

A great deal of fans, media and coaches around the state believe that the Public League’s dominance is a major contributing factor to the lagging attendance at Carver Arena.

I reached out to coaches all around the state on Saturday, but none were willing to talk on the record. Nearly all of them said that they felt Public League teams had advantages (huge population base, easily approved transfers).

One coach said he “didn’t want to make enemies in the city.”

State championship wins create powerful coaches.

“I can see how some people around the state would not like the situation,” Smith said. “But we just did what the IHSA wanted us to. Coaches are trying to be successful. They want to be legends. You can’t really fault them for that.”

It’s true that the city coaches are simply following the rules. The influx of charter schools has drastically lowered enrollment numbers at neighborhood schools. That’s why Orr is now a 2A school and Morgan Park is 3A.

The IHSA does give schools the option to move up classes. Phillips does it in football.

“We want to push our program,” Phillips coach Troy McAllister said last season. “We have an opportunity to do something great. We want to push our young men. We want them to be at the highest level and compete with the top teams. That’s how we felt.”

St. Rita and DePaul Prep have both moved up a class in basketball, but none of the Public League powers have made the move. Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin hasn’t ruled out moving up, but hasn’t embraced the idea either.

“We beat Simeon every year, we beat whoever else in 4A,” Irvin said on Saturday. “And you know where we are right now? We are in Peoria. Ring season.”

Smith says there is a very simple solution if people around the state think that the Public League dominance is hurting attendance at the state finals.

“Move it to Chicago,” Smith said. “We’ve proven we can fill arenas and that people might be more passionate about basketball in Chicago. Just look at some of the huge crowds we had at games this season at Chicago State.”

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27 comments

  • Paul

    Why wasn’t Or or Morgan Park moved up in classes due to success factors. I thought this was common practice with the IHSA. Ooops I forgot, only Catholic schools are subjected to this.

  • Ralphie

    Hey Casey let’s call a spade a spade your post is a racist rant

  • william Leach

    Don’t know why the ISHA dosen’t use Sears and Wintrust for the state finals. Two great small arenas that can be filled easily with fans from the Chicago area. The 3rd place game is a hard sell in today’s times and seems more like a participation award then anything else. Finally, I wouldn’t care how many classes they have just as long as the best teams have a chance to meet in the finals.

  • N Foster

    IHSA doesn’t want it in Chicago.
    Look what Chicago did with the McDonalds game.
    No thanks!

  • Casey

    Lets call a spade a spade…the white folks broke up the classes so more of them could ride on a fire truck down main-street in hick town….but the dwindling enrollment of CPS put a kink in that plan….
    And if Billy Bob and Aunt Pearl cannot afford to go to Chicago or they want to park their Ford F-150 in the hotel parking lot and just walk to the venue like in Peoria, too bad.
    Having the state tourney in Peoria because they have a Hall for Pop-A-Shot games (The “Experience”) is dumb….
    And the gyp job Whitney Young got in the finals game was on the par with the DuSable screw job in the 50’s……Belleville shot 38 free throws, WY 15….and was in the double bonus in the 3rd quarter while WY did not get to the one and one till overtime….

    Finally, Nick Irvin is a wimp for staying in 3A….he just wants inflated rings so that he can keep charging kids to try out for his AAU team.

  • Steveo

    Moving it back to Champaign isn’t going to happen. Do you remember when they had it they over charged for hotels and food. When I went there they needed a deposit for a room in October. If you think Chicago, think about what hotels and food will cost the fans. Peoria’s Carver arena does need an update but the March madness experience is good for the kids. I don’t think anybody else can duplicate that. In Peoria everything is within walking distance. Yes the 4 class system is terrible. I miss the elite 8, that was best day of the tournament. I’m also tired of the city schools assembling all star teams, please, magnet or career academy is a joke. Just call it what it is. I bet some of those kids pass 2 or 3 schools to get to the school that they do attend. I’ve been going for 40 years and still enjoy it.

    • Darrel

      You talk hotels and food what about the hotels and food for the people in Chicago. Also I am sick and tired of people complaining about the teams from Chicago. First of all most of the schools that are really good are not easy to get into. Second of all Chicago has a lot of talented players believe it or not and they just don’t go to Simeon, Young. And believe me there are not a lot of kids linning up to attend Orr it’s not in the best of neighborhoods. So if you want other schools to win put in the work. You don’t hear the people in CPS complain about football. Even though they don’t have the numbers or resources that other schools have. They work to get better. Hence Phillips winning two state championships in three years in two different classes.

  • mikenike

    Just as a point of interest: I watched the stream of the Missouri Class 5 championship game yesterday. Webster Groves vs Chaminade, two St. Louis schools both in the top 3 in Missouri, both with plenty of future d1 college players. They moved the finals this year from its long time home in Columbia (Mizzou U) to Springfield (Missouri State) and the attendance was very sparse considering the competition. Don’t know if it was moved because of declining attendance or they put it up for bidding, but I did see some tweets from people saying move it back to CoMo. Maybe they would have had a bigger crowd if it wasn’t for the two schools both being from St. Louis, don’t know.
    I do know one thing that hurts Illinois attendance is having the 3A and 4A finals the first week of the NCAA’s. That tournament has just become a monster and a lot of people would rather stay home with their brackets and watch those games on TV.
    Also agree that the 3rd place games are kind of redundant.
    Personally, I’d like to see the 3 and 4A games moved to Wintrust or back to Champaign. The bloom is definitely off the rose in Peoria.

  • CP3

    Peoria…..is a nice basketball town, rich in tradition. A destination for high school bball teams, but not exactly a tourist type venue. It’s time to move the state bball tourney back to U of I, or the WinTrust Arena DePaul plays in.

  • Red South Alumnus

    If interest means attendance it is down because of location. Move it back to Champaign or to DePaul’s Wintrust Arena.

    The 4 class system was created the same reason we went to 2 class in 1971-72, to give more teams opportunities to win State. What also cam with 4 class was the removal of the Public League automatic qualifier and neither was done to benefit CPS. For those who want to go back to 2 or 1 class lets do it but keep the CPS automatic qualifier off and see how happy you’ll be then. Also keep the regional seeding off to try and have CPS knock each other off.

    I actually think the current set up works. Indiana has 4 classes. Some states, like South Carolina, have 2 different state leagues for public and independent schools with up to 5 classes. Nobody in Illinois complained when CPS couldn’t win in one of the 8 football classes so don’t complain now.

  • steve

    St. Rita and DePaul Prep have both moved up a class in basketball. So has Fenwick. They were in the 3A finals last year. This season they were bumped to 4A.

  • Chicago Sports Fan

    I am so sick and tired of the complaining on the 4 class system in basketball. Football has 8 different classes. Most Chicago teams lose in the first round. We don’t complain we work hard to get Better example Phillips. Chicago is a melting pot of talent in terms of Basketball. Just Move the State Finals to Wintrust New Arena so we don’t have to drive far to collect are Trophies🏀🏀🏀🏀. Don’t get be Mad at the IHSA get better.

    • CCLAlum08

      only reason phillips got better was they had kids from catholic league school transfer in cause they recruiting them

  • Bob

    Go back to the 2 class system. Seed the teams so you actually have the top teams playing each other for titles. Forget about having all the areas represented. I would have major concerns about safety in Chicago. Sears Center would be an option. I really dont think this should be about coaches becoming legends.

    • Red South Alumnus

      Safety concerns in Chicago… So why did DePaul University move from Rosemont to build a $164M stadium in the city on the South Side! Nice try. If you’re scared don’t come. State needs to be at Wintrust Arena.

      • Wscfantoo

        The classlessness at the all star game at UC says it all. This is why we can’t have nice things….

        • Darrel

          One isolated incident. It had been there 2 years prior with no problems. Also nothing every happens where you live huh. I get so sick and tired of people painting with a broad brush when it comes to Chicago.

  • Darrel

    Norm and Duke got it right they complain about attendence then move it Chicago then they will see more people attending. Hold at the Wintrust Arena or UIC or even the UC if the Bulls aren’t using it.

    I am also sick of the downstate people complaining. Every time the teams up here dominant they change the rules. Simeon and Whitney Young played for the championship then they changed the rules to put them in the same bracket. So stop complaing.

    As far as the transfers go no one says anything about the schools outside of CPS that get transfer kids.The hypocrisy is frustrating.

    Also no one says anything about football and CPS unless they are criticising how a lot of the teams are bad. No one talks about the advantages that most schools have over CPS when it comes to numbers and resources. So stop complaing move 3A and 4A to Chicago and watch attendence grow.

  • al william

    1. No one wants to watch two consolation games on a Saturday when the NCAAs are on.
    2. Just because it is close to the IHSA Headquarters, no one wants to stay overnight in Peoria. Its a ghost town.
    3. Beating a dead horse, you are not getting the best team “downstate” with 4 classes.

  • Duke Carnoustie

    I was going to go today if my Wildkits advanced to the championship but I am not driving 4 hours to watch a third-place game. I now many other Evanston fans like me in the same boat so I don’t think attendance was any better. I have been told that Peoria is a boring town and nothing is open so kind of silly to stage it there.

    Anyway fair play to Whitney Young for coming from behind to beat us and a valiant effort in tonight’s contest.

    • Duke Carnoustie

      And I am sick of the IHSA coaches whining. There is no secret why Public League teams win and that is because Chicago is a basketball town. You wonder if these IHSA coaches have heard of Michael Jordan and the Bulls and all the legendary players to come out of Chicago. Players that are among the best in history. So what schools are supposed to compete in other parts of this state? I don’t understand.

      Lastly, shut your pieholes those who are jealous of the Chicago area success because you still force this backwards state to hold the state finals in a city where nothing is open and no one cares about. Why? All of us, in Chicago as well, are Illini fans. At least if you make us drive downstate hold it in Champaign so our Illini can benefit with the exposure, Heck even ISU is a state school. Bradley is a private school no one cares about and Peoria is a joke. Look at O’Brien’s tweet about preparing like he;s going to the third world.

      This event should be in Chicago. If not, it should benefit a state school. Who even knows many people who go to Bradley – Bradley is one of the most useless programs in the state. Why do they host the state’s best basketball players. In Wisconsin, they do it in Madison.
      In Michigan, at Michigan State. In Indiana, at the Fieldhouse. Yet we play our biggest games in an old arena like Bradley’s? I’m sick of it. I will never drive to Peoria and never support the IHSA ever again.

      Rant over.

      • steve

        (dick versace cares about Bradley…..just sayin’)

      • Vashon

        “Chicago is a basketball town.” Really? The city has over 120 high schools. The vast majority are not close to being good. There are maybe 5 teams in the city that are good. And that is because of recruiting and transfers. Most other schools in the state don’t have the benefit of 382,000 students to pick from to build teams. What if you 120 suburban schools, removed residency requirements and allowed them to stack teams. Would the city dominate then? I highly doubt it.

        Saying the city is a basketball town is like saying CPS is an academic rich district. You can’t make that judgement, intelligently, by using the selective enrollment schools. They do not represent the norm. You judge how good something by using the norm, not the exception.

  • Norm

    By changing the brackets this year Evanston made it to Peoria instead of Simeon. Was that better for attendance?

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