by Kent Sterling
The Indiana vs. Kentucky all star series has become an afterthought on the sports calendar – not because their is a lack of interest from Indiana fans, but because of the quality of play by Kentucky.
The sad truth is that basketball in the Bluegrass State is played at such a low level that the home and home series each June has become an exhibition where the foregone conclusion is that Indiana will sweep, as they did again last weekend.
It’s an honor to be selected as an all star in the state where high school basketball counts as a major league, but for these games against a routinely inferior opponent to be the climax of a career is an insult to the kids who have worked so hard to achieve the honor.
There are plenty of surrounding states that produce talent at a high level and any would be an improvement over Kentucky. Indiana vs. Ohio or Illinois would allow the series to continue and flourish.
The 114-60 demolition Kentucky was forced to endure in the first game between the two squads last week was a miserable way for the Kentuckians to celebrate being named to an all-star team. The second game was a more reasonable contest that Indiana won 84-77, but the poor crowds (1,500 at Freedom Hall in Louisville; 6,209 in Indy) will never be corrected as long as the result is a fait accompli.
This sweep is the fifth straight for Indiana, and runs the series record to 90-42, with Indiana losing only twice in the last 22 contests.
A myth exists that because of the move to a four class tournament 15 years ago that people in Indiana no longer care deeply about the rite of passage chronicled in “Hoosiers”, and that’s nonsense. The gyms are still packed more often than not for each step of the tournament, and despite the idiocy of teams traveling an hour to play in sectionals, the game has never been stronger.
The level of play has never been higher as the facilities and instruction for kids dedicating themselves to basketball provides the nourishment needed to excel. No state produces as many NBA players per capita than Indiana, and those kids deserve a test to match that skill level, and Kentucky simply doesn’t provide it.
The game should be about the kids and not the fans, but if the public indifference reflected by the empty seats is to be corrected, the game needs an opponent that will drive interest, or at least play at a level where the outcome is in doubt before the tip. Knowing the answer to the question before it’s asked is no way to drive passionate fans to an arena.
There are charitable aspects to this annual event, but the amount of money that is generated by the friends and family crowd is too puny to be a concern.
It’s important that an all-star team is named, and that they convene to become a team, but they should be allowed a test that is compelling for them as well as the fans. The Kentucky kids deserve something other than a 54-point drubbing as their lasting memory of what should be a sweet final chapter of a high school career.
I agree with nearly everything you said about the series between IN and KY. However, what I disagree with you about is the effect of the class system. It was and continues to be a disaster.
I remember going to the Evansville sectional back in the day and Roberts Stadium was packed with 13,000 fans. I have in recent years attended the Boonville and Princeton sectionals (where a couple of Evansville schools play, and the attendance seemed to be 2,000 – 3,000. If you include every sectional that an Evansville school participated in this year, I estimate that the attendance to the sectionals has a decrease of about 3000 to 4000 thousand per largest session. When you compare that the old Evansville sectional contained only 7 schools, and the the three sectionals that it is divided up into now, it looks like this:
One-Class Evansville Sectional – 7 schools – 12500
Class Sectionals (Evansville participants) – 19 schools – 9000
I admit that I don’t have hard numbers, but this is a pretty good estimate.
Indiana Basketball Digest did a comparison with revenue and fan attendance before and after the change. It isn’t even close.
Indiana has residual talent that is noticeably better than other states (when comparing populations), but that is the only thing that can be said by class basketball other than some smaller schools can pretend that they are state champions.
I went to the sectional at Warren Central, the Seymour Regional and Semistate, and the State Championships. The gyms were packed, and I had a great time.
If they would somehow find the motivation to cut the tournament back to two classes like Illinois does, that would fix some of the problems – like teams traveling an hour for sectional games.
I would love for the one class tourney to come back, but as long as the 1A, 2A, and 3A schools outnumber the 4A members of the IHSAA, it won’t happen. Today’s everyone gets a ribbon society is an absurd overreaction, but unfortunately it’s here to stay.
I agree. I think a variation of a two-class system would be great – if it had a SR circuit and a JR circuit. I also think it would be a good idea for the smaller schools to opt in the SR circuit if they wanted a shot at the state title. This way, there would be no doubt that there was ONE state champion and one CLASS champion. Like you, though, I do not believe it will change as long as most people keep thir current view of “fairness”.