There’s a reason why IHSA basketball regional system makes little sense


It’s time for my annual rant about the IHSA basketball playoffs, although it’s only lived in my head the last few years.

As long as the IHSA insists on having set sites for girls and boys regionals, the system will continue to be unfair to the higher seeds.

Imagine you’ve worked three months to be one of the best teams in the area. You’ve reached the 20-win mark and beyond, and you’re primed for a playoff run.

Even better news, you’ve received a top-four sectional seed in a vote conducted by the coaches in the field.

All good, right? Probably not.

In 2003, the same year the Chicago Public league stopped receiving an automatic bid into the Elite Eight, IHSA officials ended the traditional system of having higher-seeded teams host regional games.

Instead, they designated four set regional sites within each sectional. A handful of teams would begin meeting in one place for a mini-tournament to determine advancement into the sectional semifinals.

What we’ve seen every season since are higher-seeded teams facing risky “road” games against lower-seeded opponents suddenly given a shot by being awarded a regional.

Home court means everything in high school basketball. It’s the familiarity of the court, the shooting sight lines, the air flowing through the gymnasium, the feel of the rims.

From the locker rooms to the bench, that kind of comfort level is a huge advantage. But for many of the top teams that worked all season to earn those advantages, it’s just too bad. They’re stuck on the road.

I guarantee the second-seeded St. Charles North girls basketball team didn’t look forward to playing at No. 10 Lake Park in Thursday’s regional title game. Same for No. 3 Geneva playing a regional final at No. 6 Glenbard West.

It’s no better in the boys basketball bracket, where Palatine, the second seed in the Elgin sectional, might play a dangerous Conant team, the seventh seed, on its home court. After handily beating Conant in the first round of Mid Suburban League play, the Pirates held on for a 6-point win last month.

Think third-seeded Waubonsie Valley wants to play at district rival Metea Valley, the sectional’s seventh seed, in a potential regional final? No chance.

When the Warriors played last month at Metea Valley, they barely escaped with a 3-point victory. It’s not fair that Waubonsie Valley — or any of those other top seeds — have to play regional games away from home.

High school basketball teams go through the entire regular season hosting games, so there’s no reason they can’t continue to do it in the playoffs. I completely understand set sectional sites for logistical reasons, but few of those logistical issues apply in regionals.

The IHSA has tried similar “geographic” ideas with football … anyone else remember those horrible playoff quadrants in football? But, luckily, in recent years we’ve returned to straight seeding for the sport’s larger classes.

It gives me a glimmer of hope that someday we’ll return to a more fair regional basketball system.

And maybe the rants will end.


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