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Girls tourney location not issue

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Depending on your slant as a columnist, it might seem you are railing against one side of an argument even though you have a certain respect for both parties.

Take, for instance, the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s announcement that it will overlap the girls volleyball and basketball seasons by a week in order to allow Bankers Life Fieldhouse to host the four girls state basketball championship games starting with the 2016 season.

Before I talk about the fact that this idea should be revisited, I want to make sure it is understood that I applaud IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox and the organization for trying to provide girls basketball with the best possible exposure.

Also, the IHSAA obviously is concerned with declining attendance at the state finals which ultimately means less revenue. That money helps to enrich the students’ athletic experiences.

This is all done with the very best intentions and it also should be pointed out that the IHSAA asked for extensive feedback from its members before making any changes to future sports schedules. These decisions and changes are honorable.

Now comes the “But ...”

Stop worrying about holding a game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Stop worrying about overlapping the girls state championship game with the first round of boys sectional playoffs. It ultimately is going to do more harm than good.

OK, there, I said it.

Sure, Bankers Life is a great venue. Yes, it can pack lots of people within its doors. All those empty seats will sure look cool as a backdrop.

But aren’t we getting a little caught up in the grand finale without putting more emphasis on all the rest of those teams that never will get to experience a state championship venue ... without buying a ticket? I think fiddling with the schedule is going to hurt more teams than it will help, and certainly more athletes than it will help.

It appears to me we’re making some pretty big changes without thinking about all those folks on the bottom of the pyramid.

I understand the whole exposure idea, but I just don’t know how having the most fancy arena is going to get more people to attend. Couldn’t the game be held in a building at the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds? Would a packed arena generate more excitement for future seasons than a half-filled one?

Isn’t there another suitable location in central Indiana? Do we have to shift the entire schedule to accommodate one venue for eight teams on one day?

As an aside, I wonder if Columbus East’s Class 4A state football championship would have been just as exciting, and well attended, if it was played somewhere other than Lucas Oil Stadium? My guess is that those who made that trip would have been happy at a big high school venue as long as they didn’t have to drive three or four hours.

We often talk about the good, old days, when people would flock to state championships and pack arenas. Here’s a news flash. People have more things on their plate these days. Those events used to be played at smaller venues. Oh, and by the way, it costs more to attend high school events than it did 20 years ago.

People are not staying away from girls basketball playoff games because the boys are playing basketball at the same time. And even if the girls basketball schedule is moved up a week so the boys won’t have started sectional playoffs, the boys still are going to be playing. They most likely are going to be playing in some pretty big conference tournament games. What’s the difference?

I would argue girls basketball, as a whole, is more exciting than ever. The girls are stronger, faster and overall more talented. They are coached better, and that might be more important than all the other factors.

The battle is not to get some non-fan from Indy to attend a big event once a year. It’s introducing the sport to local communities during the regular season and developing that support base.

Instead, the decision has been made to start girls basketball earlier, which will place more demands on girls volleyball players who participate in both sports. Perhaps those at the very top schools, in both sports, already are mostly one-sport athletes. However, Indiana has lots of small schools that depend on girls to double in both volleyball and basketball.

One of the complaints I hear from many high school coaches, of all sports, is that athletes today are being forced to concentrate on one sport. Here we go, making it tougher on athletes to play multiple sports.

Judging from the negative reaction of many coaches to the decision to change the girls basketball schedule, I am not the only one who feels this way.

Since the change isn’t being made until 2016, there still might be time for discussion.

My advice to coaches who are worried about the change would be to act now. It might not be too late to be heard.

Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at or 379-5632.

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