After 11 town meetings this spring and an extensive survey of various factions of the Indiana High School Athletic Association membership, it appears the multi-class basketball tournament is firmly in place.
IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said the results of the survey, which were unveiled Friday, show there "is a lack of compelling evidence" to alter the current four-class structure that has been in place since 1997-98.
State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, who had pushed for a return to the single-class format, agreed to remove the call for a single-class tournament in January and take the discussion on the road with Cox.
"While I have developed a tremendous amount of respect for both Commissioner Cox and the IHSAA," Delph said in a statement released Friday, "ignoring public sentiment is no way to solve problems. Attendance is down. Interest is down. And if we aren't careful, future generations are going to consider high school basketball a complete afterthought."
For six weeks, beginning in early April, they traveled throughout the state as the public was allowed to voice its opinion on the tournament format. The votes were solidly in favor of the single-class tournament (68.1%), but only 514 voted, perhaps a sign that the class basketball debate had lost steam since it was installed 15 years ago.
"As great as a single-class tournament sounds, it's a different era now," said Southport athletic director Pete Hubert, who voted in favor of the current system. "I went to (now Class 2A) Eastern Hancock (graduating in 1976) and wouldn't trade our experience in the single-class tournament for anything. But a lot of the factors that were in place then have changed."
The athletic directors were most strongly in favor of the multiclass tournament, with 79.3% (291-of-367) favoring it over a single-class format. In a bit of a surprise, the principals were 76.8% (232-of-302) in favor, down from 89.4% in 2006. Boys and girls basketball players were also surveyed, with 72.6% (4,315-of-5,943) in favor of the current format.
Speedway girls basketball coach Jordan Dever — who voted in favor of multi-class — went to high school at East Central, just 20 minutes from Milan, the famous small-school 1954 boys basketball champion. However, other than learning the history of the team and the single-class tourney, he believes the passage of time has changed the landscape.
"The only thing I've known as a player and a coach is multiclass," Dever said. "The history is great, but none of the kids now have grown up with that. And from the girls basketball side of things anyway, there's a huge disparity between 4A and 2A. It'd be all but over for us to play Ben Davis in the sectional."
In June, Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, indicated the high school basketball tournament format is unlikely to be pursued by the legislature.
"(Educators) should be afforded the continued opportunity to serve the young people of our state with the sincerity and enthusiasm they deserve void of government intervention and pressure," Cox said in the news release.
Any hope for change is likely in the hands of the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association. The coaches voted slightly in favor of multiclass (55%, 343-of-624), but many have expressed interest in a compromise or hybrid tournament that would incorporate elements of both formats.
IBCA President Steve Witty said the organization is in the early stages of surveying its members to see if there is enough support to put together a formal proposal.
Cox said the IHSAA executive committee would entertain those submissions.
"If the small schools would have a chance to compete, I'd take a look at some sort of compromise," said Cascade boys coach Chris DuBois, who voted in favor of multiclass. "I'd like to see what some of the other options might be."