Schuckman: IHSA fails to meet its mission by forcing basketball teams to play third-place games hours after semifinals


The Quincy Notre Dame girls basketball players return to the floor following a timeout in the second half of their Class 2A third-place game against Chicago Butler College Prep on Thursday night at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena in Normal, Ill. | Matt Schuckman photo

NORMAL, Ill. — Quincy Notre Dame girls basketball coach Eric Orne listened intently as senior guard Abbey Schreacke discussed how the Raiders needed to regroup following a gut-punch loss Thursday in the Class 2A state semifinals and play the third-place game two hours later.

“We’re going to have to find something deeper inside of us to play this last game,” a teary eyed Schreacke said.

But the Raiders shouldn’t have had to do that.

Orne was ready to discuss why.

“Want any thoughts from me?” Orne asked.

Well, of course.

In that moment, sitting on a dais in the press room in the bowels of Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena, Orne said what everyone else was thinking.

The decision to play the third-place games only hours after the semifinals is ludicrous.

“I hope there’s a better solution in years to come,” Orne said. “I think it’s tough putting teams up against this turnaround that they’re not used to in the biggest games of the year. This is a great event. This is truly a great event. Give these young ladies who just fought for everything a day just to come back and fight for it again.

“That’s the celebration of this weekend. It’s great that it’s all on one weekend, but let’s look at a solution that doesn’t have these young ladies turning around. What I’m going to ask them to do is pretty difficult, and I’m putting them at risk of possibly an injury. 

“I just think there are better solutions that not only the (Illinois Basketball Coaches Association) can do but the IHSA can look at and say, ‘We have a great thing going here, what if we do this and it encompasses not having girls play back-to-back on the same night.”

A year ago, when the Raiders won the Class 2A state championship, they enjoyed almost a full 48 hours or rest between the semifinal victory over Pana and the title game victory over Winnebago. Meanwhile, Pana had a short turnaround and was forced to go from the first semifinal to the third-place game only hours later.

“I felt for Pana last year,” Orne said. “I was back at the hotel just literally tired, and I watched them play. And I watched a Civic Memorial girl get hurt.”

Fixing the problem starts with the Illinois High School Association putting value in the third-place games, not simply making them an afterthought.

Anyone who stuck around Redbird Arena for the final of three sessions Thursday — there weren’t many who lasted all day — noticed how the atmosphere turned into assembly line basketball. It became a “get ’em in, get ’em out” approach.

The third-place games were not carried on the IHSA TV Network, which broadcast the first four games of the day on television stations across the state. Instead, those games were relegated to the NFHS Network, which requires a subscription to watch.

The postgame medal ceremony wasn’t a celebration of teams that reached the state tournament. It was rushed. It was uncomfortable. It was chaotic. 

The four teams that played in the Class 1A and 2A third-place games all were summoned to the court following the final game of the day and received their medals one right after the other. For Galena, which played in the first game of the day at 10 a.m., it meant finally leaving the arena for good after 10 p.m.

That’s what assembly line basketball does.

It ruins the moment.

Once the crown jewels of all state tournament events the IHSA hosts, the boys and girls basketball tournaments need an immediate overhaul. The idea of championship Saturday where the titles in all four classes are decided is a great idea, but not at sacrificing the experience of the other student-athletes and teams that reach the final four.

Basketball is the only multi-class team sport the IHSA sanctions where its participants are forced to play the third-place game the same day as the semifinal. In single-class team sports such as water polo and boys volleyball, the quarterfinals are part of the state tournament experience, giving those student-athletes multiple days on the state stage.

Basketball has been whittled to a one-day event for half the field.

How can that be the case? How can the state tournament experience matter more in other sports when basketball is the longest running state tournament series of any sport the IHSA sanctions?

Issues with how IHSA operates, especially when it comes to the state tournament events, run deep, but treating student-athletes fairly is part of the organization’s promise.

In fact, the mission statement says, “The IHSA governs the equitable participation in interscholastic athletics and activities that enrich the educational experience.”

The IHSA is failing to meet that mission, which is further reason it’s time for a change.

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