The Indiana High School Athletic Association’s switch from a single ‘class’ tournament to a multi-class tournament that crowns multiple champions in boys basketball is one of the defining sports events of my lifetime. It is at the heart of both of my books. Blue Blood, my history of the Indianapolis Colts features it prominently. My soon to be released novel Invincible, Indiana also revolves around the final single class tournament. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be debating the issue with 18to88 reader Billy Brandle. Billy is fiercely in favor of the change, and I am equally convinced it is a mistake. Today, I’ll give you Billy’s point of view. Tomorrow, I’ll respond with my own. Then in the days to come we’ll answer each other’s questions. Please note: this is an issue that stirs passion on all sides. I rarely ever have to admonish 18to88 readers to be respectful, but in this case allow me to mention it preemptively. This WILL be a civil debate.
There are so many reasons why I love class basketball and loath the old system.
While there are many reasons to support multi-class basketball, all the reasons shrink in comparison to the one: fairness. Supporters of the old system often talk about nostalgic memories, how things were, the popularity of the sport, and other bases for the old system. I could counter those ideas with notions of my own, but in the end high school sports should be fair.
Professional sports don’t need to be fair; college doesn’t even need to be fair. High school does. In high school, above everything else, it is about the athletes. They need to play on a level playing field. Sure there were some great times before 1998 and many want to use those great memories as the excuse for the blinding dominance of Goliath over David that took place for decade after decade. I won’t. I’ve seen new memories in this system and games so passionate it gives goose bumps just thinking about it.
When I was in middle school I operated the camera for the high school team. I remember one game where we were a 1A school playing a 4A school. It was a great game. Back and forth and close to the end. In the end the 4A school won in a nail bitter, but in all reality we were the slightly better team that just didn’t play our best on that night. During the height of the game I was up in the booth with a man from the opposing school. He made the comment, “This is why class basketball is worthless. A good team is a good team no matter the size.” That night two teams equal in ability played a great game. However, that 4A school was a sub-.500 team that got destroyed in the opening round of the tournament (by a team that was themselves not that good by 4A standards). My team…we lost 5 games all year and won the 1A state championship.
The only way you could say the system was fair was if small schools beat large schools half the time. They don’t. I wish I had the stats it prove my case but I’m confident they do. Sure, on many occasions a small school will beat much larger schools to win a sectional, and occasionally a regional, and on the very rarest of occasions a state championship. Making those wins all that more sweet. But what class basketball does is show the truly great small schools what they are.
My team that won the state championship was arguably the best 1A school in the state. However, in the old system they would have been underdogs to win their own sectional (which was mostly 3A schools, a couple 2A schools and them). In fact, before that year they never won a sectional, ever. However, that year in which they won the title was the first of 12 straight sectional championships.
Today, the dream of small schools is no longer occasionally knock off a larger school. Now, the dream is to create a dynasty. An occasional big win was a great thing, but continual success year after year is now a realistic thing. Those other 1A schools who lost year after year to my school in the sectional were frustrated at always losing. In the old system their dream of having the dominance that we had was just a dream. But now, they actually have the ability to achieve it.
There are still upsets, there are still great games and dynasties. But now, everyone has the chance every single year. Not just half the state.