For the first time since Columbus High School split into Columbus North and Columbus East, the two schools could be in different basketball sectionals next year.
If the IHSAA executive committee approves a proposal at its Oct. 2 meeting, and there isn’t a significant shift in enrollment between a few select schools, East would drop from Class 4A to 3A beginning with the 2015-16 season. North would remain in 4A.
“If I’m in 4A, if I’m in 3A, if I’m in 20A, we’re going to coach them up,” East boys basketball coach Brent Chitty said. “In Indiana, no matter what class you’re in, it’s good competition.”
The proposal, which was the result of a two-year study be a committee that included members of the IHSAA board and executive staff, Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, calls for only the 64 largest schools to be placed in 4A and the remaining 346 schools to be split evenly over the bottom three classes. The schools are currently split about evenly between the four classes.
“I’m all in favor of doing what’s best for kids,” Chitty said. “If it goes back to one class, if that’s best for kids, I’m all in.”
The biggest changes would come at the sectional level. Current sectionals have as few as five and as many as eight teams.
If the proposal is adopted, there would be 16 four-team sectionals in 4A. The other three classes would have seven- or eight-team sectionals.
“I think it’s time for a change,” East girls basketball coach Danny Brown said. “The enrollment for the state tournament has gone down. Maybe it will shake things up a little bit, but I don’t think it will pass. There will be some good points to it and some not so good points to it.”
One of the points that isn’t being well-received among some coaches is that the four-team 4A sectionals would all be played on one Saturday, similar to the current regional format.
“I don’t think it’s fair to the kids, especially the team that finished second,” North girls basketball coach Pat McKee said. “If you play and win in the morning and then lose the night game, you don’t have the thrill of winning the day game. All the focus is on the one they lose.”
“Having the sectional in one day is definitely going to be a variable,” North boys basketball coach Jason Speer said. “Two games in one day will be different, but our schedule should prepare us for that.”
North’s sectional opponents would change if the proposal is adopted. While Columbus East, Shelbyville and East Central might move down to 3A, Columbus North, Bloomington North and Bloomington South would remain in 4A.
With four-team sectionals, however, it’s possible that Columbus North could be paired with schools such as Franklin, Whiteland and Martinsville rather than the Bloomington schools.
“However you slice it, Columbus North is always going to be in the 64 biggest schools,” Speer said. “The only variable is, ‘How are they going to draw those lines up?’”
This year’s enrollment numbers are a big variable concerning where teams on the 3A-4A bubble will be placed. In the most recent classification cycle, Columbus East was the state’s 68th-largest school.
That means if East picks up several students or if a few schools above them lose several students, the Olympians could move into the top 64 and remain in 4A.
“We’re not shying away from anybody,” Brown said. “The 4A state champion has come from our (Hoosier Hills) conference three of the past four years, so we get a lot of competition in our conference. We always want to play the best.”
Jennings County’s status would be even more up in the air. Jennings was the state’s 65th-largest school, just eight students smaller than No. 64 Fort Wayne Wayne.
“What’s interesting about this is, there’s a lot of schools right now that wouldn’t know what class they’re in,” said Jennings athletics director and IHSAA board member Mike Broughton. “This is a time where no one knows their attendance and knows what tournament they would be in, so hopefully, everybody would look at it as, ‘Is this good for Indiana high school basketball?’
“No one could pencil in a sectional right now because they don’t know what the enrollment numbers are,” he said. “No one could draw it up if they wanted to.”
Further complicating matters is the recently implemented “success factor” that moves a school up a class if it accumulates enough points in a two-year classification cycle. For example, if the Greensburg boys, which have won the past two 3A state titles (although the first came in a previous cycle), win at least a regional title in 2014-15, they would move up to 4A for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
Broughton said one other issue the IHSAA is facing concerning the basketball realignment is whether it should pick the host sites or leave it up to the schools.
“I really believe that the IHSAA should be involved in the sites,” Broughton said. “I also think that the sectional, regional and semistate, if the school knew where they were going before the season started, it would help. Now, you win the regional, and you wait until the next day to find out where you’re going (for semistate). It would be nice to know, ‘If I win the sectional or the regional, I’m going here.’”
Broughton said he has no idea whether or not the proposal will pass. One thing he is certain about, however, is that no matter which way it goes, not everyone will be happy.
“You could take 15 basketball fans, and you’d have 15 different thoughts,” Broughton said. “There are many, many people who have thoughts on what’s best. It was an interesting two-year period of time.”