The Class Basketball Debate (part four)

The Class Basketball debate continues here at this week. Today, Billy Brandle responds to my questions about his position.  You can read Billy’s position in part one.  Be sure to check out part two and the brilliant part three as well.  Tomorrow, I’ll respond to Billy’s questions to me.

1.  How do we define fairness? Is fairness based on equality of outcome (small schools beating big schools regularly) or is it based on equal opportunity (the chance to take the floor and compete?)

Both systems are not fair. Teams will dominate every year and teams will get dominated every year no matter the size of school. There are many small schools that haven’t had any more success under the new system then in the old system.

However, it does give equal opportunity.

Let’s say there is a new coach coming into a small school who has been horrible for years. He does not have the same opportunities as another, more successful coach in a different school of the same size. He has less fan support, less support from administration and his players are less dedicated. He probably also has less money as well. However, he has the chance to make his program great and succeed in the tournament. In the one-class system he could have made a great program and won regular season games but would never had success in the tournament. The best he could have done was maybe win a sectional one day. Today, he can take his team all the way. He may or may not do it but now he has the opportunity (and so do his players!)

With all the talk of life not being fair so basketball shouldn’t be (because of incorrect connections of basketball and life) I have to say something about life in America. It is fair like class basketball is fair. Not equal, but fair.

I’ll give you a personal life story. My wife had a friend in college named Hugo. He is from Columbia and got to college in America on a scholarship. After graduation if no American company hired him he had to go back to Columbia. Even tough his whole family and life was in Columbia he did everything he could to stay here. He even proposed to a girl had only met once for 10 minutes. He was desperate. Why? Because Columbia wasn’t fair. No matter how hard he tried or how great his education was he was not going to succeed there. But he could here.

America is called the land of opportunity. And it is. America is not fair. Some people are born with a silver spoon, are smarter, and more connected. But in America you can start up a business against major corporations and against all odds win and become the great company. Much like class basketball you can go from the bottom to the top. It is hard but possible. But in many countries of the world you can’t do that. No matter how smart you are or how hard you try the system is set up so you can’t succeed. In business if you have success you can get more employees and become stronger. In basketball no matter how much success you have your talent pool (the number one factor determining success in high school sports) will not grow. The one-class system does not allow a team to go from the bottom to the top. There is a glass ceiling and for many school it is very low which is why small school had to give up the dream of a state championship.

In many foreign countries great people like Nate are trying to change the system. What I have seen in these countries is that the system needs changed more than the people. What the people need most is the hope that the system can work for them. This can inspire them to change the system and have the opportunity for a better life for their family. In America the system is not perfect but the number one thing to work on is the people, not the system. A person born in poverty can achieve great things with hard work. America doesn’t guarantee success but it does guarantee the opportunity. Just like class basketball.

I think one important distinction must be made between myself and many who disagree with me. I see a state title as ultimate success. You might disagree but other small schools think like I do. It is not enough to win a sectional or maybe even a regional. We want the opportunity for a state title.

I can give all the arguments in the world but I think that Nate sums it up best. In Blue Blood he says on page 96, “It was my turn to cheer. Isn’t that the point of sports?” I totally agree Nate. We all deserve our day in the sun. It became obvious to the coaches and administrators of small schools that they wouldn’t get their day in the sun. That is why the change was needed.

They still might not have their day in the sun. But today it is actually possible.

To all the readers out there think of the great memories of your school winning in the past. Whether that be sectionals, regionals, or at state. Now imagine they never existed. Instead, you got beat year after year. As Colts fans we were beaten down in the pre-Manning years but we knew that there was hope. I love class basketball because hope existed where there once was none. Even if our team is bad now we knew our time to cheer would come. In the one-class system that wasn’t the case. There was only despair. Any reader out there might have had great memories at their school. I and numerous others didn’t. All we knew was hopelessness because we had been beaten down for nearly a century. You can hate class basketball all you want. I will admit that the state isn’t as passionate about the tournament as it once was.

But passion is still there. 

And now so is hope.


2,  How do you respond to the argument that multi-class basketball favors private schools who get more financial backing from boosters than public schools, allowing them to buy championships?

First, there is a reason why private school couldn’t consistently win championships before class basketball: size. There are no enormous private schools in Indiana. In the past they got picked on by the big boys year after year like everyone else because the size of their talent was smaller. Second, money in private schools is often exaggerated. Private schools have more boosters but they also don’t get the tax revenue of public schools. Although I went to a public school, I have strong connections to private schools and I can tell you that money is extremely tight in almost all private schools. I have a hard time believing private schools can buy championships when many of them that win titles can’t even afford to build their own football stadium. How many public schools do you know of that can’t afford a football stadium? Third, the money issue can be used whether it is private or public. We all know of public schools whose sports programs get massive amounts of money. Money will always be in issue. What makes private schools different is that its patrons give the money and have more interested in the school then the public school resident who has the money taxed and often could care less. Imagine if every person who gave tax dollars to a public school cared greatly about the school and athletics. Attention from the outside public does make athletes and teams better. The passion for private schools among its community is, as a whole, unmatched by public schools. People are religiously and monetarily invested which creates more outside support and pressure on the athletes.

3.  Why do you think attendance at the finals has dropped in half since the start of the multi-class tournament? Why are fans so disinterested now?

I can not give a definite answer to this question but I have a few guesses. First, football is growing and basketball shrinking. This is the case all over the country. We see it in the growth of attendance at our own state football championships. The rise of the Colts and demise of Pacers and IU basketball has hastened the move to football in Indiana. We can only love so much and Peyton Manning has made us love football more and more making less and less room for basketball. Second, smaller schools bring fewer fans. When all the schools in the state finals are large then they all bring larger fan bases. When your school wins year after year school spirit is up and so is attendance. Between 1997 and 1998 there was a drastic change in who was winning. More teams with smaller fan bases were winning and they brought fewer fans. Larger schools with large fan bases that had great pride because they won a lot now lost a lot of pride because they were now losing and their fan interest dropped. Third, the level of talent at the state finals has dropped. 1A basketball isn’t as good as seeing multiple 4A schools. Fans want good, exciting championships between the best teams in the state. The multi-class system doesn’t try to do that or even attempt to do that. It creates balance. If you want the best basketball for fans with no ties with either team a one-class system is the best but high school sports isn’t about the fans. Finally, teams no longer play the schools closest to them in the tournament. It would be great to keep this aspect of the tournament; however, this too often created domination within sectionals, as we saw in Terre Haute.

4.  Why do small school kids deserve to have their own championship? Why does that even feel good?  Why be proud of being single A champions at all when all it means is that there are still dozens of better teams out there?

What good is it to be a 4A champion if there are other teams around the country who are better than you? It is all about your competition. We beat teams with the same opportunity we had. Playing in a single-class system was like always playing with your hand tied behind your back. There was always a disadvantage. You might have not seen it but we sure did. Year after year after year. But now, if a school develops its program it actually have the chance to win the championship. We don’t want to be happy to compete. We want championships and now we finally have the opportunity.

The 1A state title matters greatly to us. It might not to you but it’s not your title. I got to see the second (and final) Tournament of Champions. The 1A played the 4A champion and lost…and didn’t mind that they lost. They actually played above their ability and made it a good game and came within a few possessions of winning.

In your mindset that game was probably more important than the 1A championship; however, if they won that game it would have been far, far less important than their 1A title. Even if they won the entire Tournament of Champions it would have still felt like less of an accomplishment then the 1A title. Winning a 1A or 2A title means you conquered the mountain in front of you. At the beginning of the season that mountain is put in front of you and you don’t care about the 4A mountain. You care about your mountain.

What I see in many in favor of a single-class system is that they want to compare themselves to every team in the state. Many who go to small school don’t have that same mindset. In the regular season you compare yourself to the competition on the floor with you and those in your conference. In the playoff you compare yourself to those in your class and forget about the other ¾ of the state because that is your competition.

5.  In your story, it sounds like class basketball was great for your school (12 straight sectionals), but made zero difference for all the other small schools in your group.  They lose just as often as they ever did. How can you say the change helped any school but yours?  It sounds like this change favored a handful of schools around the state and either made no difference or actually hurt the rest. Now the IHSAA makes far far less money than it used to, so while a few schools get to hoist trophies, most schools get the shaft because they don’t get to split the economic pot generated by the state finals.

I’m so happy you asked this question because it gets at the heart of what it has done for all small schools. In the past when a small school lost year after year to larger schools they could blame it on size. But now those schools who lose year after year couldn’t blame it on an unfair advantage, they had to blame themselves. I’ve seen in the old system when we lost every year the primary reaction wasn’t to be mad at the other teams, it was to be made at the system. Now, those schools in our sectional that lost year after year aren’t mad at the system. They lost for years before 1997 and lost for year after. However, their reaction is completely different. They are mad at themselves and hate my school. They want to be the best. In the past they would say, “Oh well, we’re not the best because we’re not the biggest.” It gave schools an excuse. For small schools losing is more painful in a class system because they were on a level playing field…they could do it if they had given it their all. Larger schools don’t get it because class basketball hasn’t affected the fundamental way in which they look at their competition.

But is also has a second effect. They know they can win next year. My school had a dynasty. Now the other schools in the sectional actually feel that they have the chance at a dynasty because the only thing making our players better is dedication and a developed feeder system, not the size of talent pool. We finally lost the sectional and now the other schools feel their time has finally come. A dozen years of dominance by one school does not make a system unfair…a century of half the state does!

Finally, class basketball does make less money. If making money was what we were going for I’d agree with your opinion. However, money is a minor side issue. What is most important is what is happening on the court, not at the ticket booth.

6. There aren’t that many more sectional championships now than before.  Why do small school kids deserve a special break just because they go to a small school?  Fewer kids at big schools win championships now when they are actually BETTER than a lot of schools who get to hoist trophies. Shouldn’t the best win, regardless of size?  Isn’t it unfair that lesser schools who aren’t as good get to be champions just because they are small?  How is that fair?  Isn’t the new system the definition of unfair. It gives special advantages to people based on size instead of letting them decide it on the court.

Why do big schools deserve the break of picking on smaller schools? Take Vincennes Lincoln, Richmond, Logansport, Connersville, Columbus North, and Frankfort for example. They are all in the upper level of the state in sectional championships. In the single class system those six schools have won 333 sectional titles. That’s an average of 55.5 each and better than one every two years. In the past 14 years they have won a combined total of 1, ONE COMBINED. We often see this with a larger town with one larger school surrounded by small towns and schools. They dominate smaller schools for years and years. They are the better school but it is only because they are bigger not because they are more dedicated or have a better developed feeder system or necessary even a better coach. However, when they have to “pick on someone their own size” they are the ones getting dominated. The system no longer works in their favor and they get mad which is happening to many one-class proponents. They don’t really hate the system as much as they think, they hate that it is harder to win and that overnight their not “the team” to beat. It is impressive to see schools in this situation who still win year after year. If means they actually had great programs to begin with instead of padding their trophy cases with against smaller competition.

In closing, this is about titles. Not about the passion of the fans or money generated. It’s about the opportunity to win titles. Logical arguments are being made on both side but at the end of the day, “the stats don’t lie,” and their telling us that smaller schools don’t have the same chance to win titles and it’s not because of money or coaching or even dedication. It’s completely about school size.