Some Indiana high School girls basketball coaches furious over season shift

by Kent Sterling

High school athletics are apposed to be for the kids - not the coaches, not the administrators, and not the IHSAA.

High school athletics are apposed to be for the kids – not the coaches, not the administrators, and not the IHSAA.

The IHSAA wanted the state championship to be competed for at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and the schedule as it was caused a conflict with the Big Ten Tournament.  In event hosting, Big Ten vs. IHSAA girls is a walkover, so the only option was to shift the season one week earlier.

Also a consideration is the conflict of the girls state finals and the boys sectional finals being contested at the same time.  According to the IHSAA, that has caused an erosion in the popularity of the girls event.

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Seems pretty simple, but nothing is simple in the world of high school athletics.  You see, under the new schedule the volleyball sectional will be played during the first week of basketball practice, and as you might guess, many tall volleyball players enjoy their roles as tall basketball players.

Therein lies the outrage.

Over the weekend, a flurry of emails regarding the change were initiated by Mark Holt of Barr-Reeve High School, Gary Christlieb of Culver Academy, and responded to by IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox.  Below are those three emails:

Fellow Coaches,
I have spent nearly the entire weekend fielding phone calls, emails, and personal conversations from several very angry girls’ basketball coaches.

The reason for their anger is the recent decision to move the girls’ basketball season back a week. (see attached response from Mr. Cox)

On one hand, we totally understand, and support the effort to eliminate the conflict between boys’ sectional finals and girls’ state finals. This is a much needed step to help our sport by allowing girls’ teams to now attend and watch the girls’ state finals and not having to miss their boys’ basketball sectional finals. It also gets the state finals back to Indianapolis where it belongs.

On the other hand, it severely impacts early season development of girls’ basketball teams. We now are scheduled to start basketball practice on the week of girls’ volleyball sectionals. This is totally unacceptable for several reasons.

Primarily, and especially with smaller schools, athletes are shared between girls’ basketball and girls’ volleyball. In my case specifically, 6 of my top 7 girls will be playing volleyball during the first week of basketball practices. Even if they lose in the sectional, it becomes nearly impossible to give them any days off before starting basketball practice which increases physical and especially mental fatigue. Mr. Cox says we can work with the volleyball coaches to share athletes that week. We know that is IMPOSSIBLE. What volleyball coach in their right mind would allow their players to practice basketball during volleyball sectional week and what basketball coach in their right mind would encourage that putting someone else’s players in jeopardy of injury during the state tournament?

Secondly, the girls season is already very condensed as we play the same number of games as boys in less time and now we are going to be shorted even more time by this proposal. This will hurt the quality of girls’ basketball, not just early in the season, as Mr. Cox states, but as we have seen here at Barr-Reeve, with our volleyball team’s post season success, you are playing “catch up” the rest of the year.

Thirdly, I also fear more two-sport athletes will consider playing just one sport with this increased conflict. That is not good for either sport.

I simply don’t see the logic in this move. Why can we not also move volleyball back one week also? That seems to be the easy solution.

I thank you for your time and consideration of this matter. This is going to be a strongly contested issue as the girls’ basketball coaches around the state are outraged and bonding together to chart their course of protest. Please get out in front of this issue and help the IHSAA set this right.
Mark L. Holt
Barr-Reeve High School
Girls’ Varsity Basketball Coach


As some of you may or may not be aware, I sent an email to Commissioner Cox regarding concerns I had over the recent decision of the calendar move for the girls basketball season. Below is his response to those concerns. In speaking with Marty Johnson of the IBCA, he mentioned the cycle for proposing changes to team sports will be in two years since this decision occurred this year and individual sports occur next year. However, any principal can make a proposal to the IHSAA at any time and seek to amend the by-laws which would seem the most effective way to redress this decision. In reading and trying to understand the comments below, I think the IHSAA believes they are making an attempt to grow the girls state finals and truly believes this is the way to accomplish that task, although in a narrow minded perspective. I do believe the Commissioner misses the point and his rationale does not convince me that this decision is good for girls athletics and basketball in particular.

The voice now needs to be collective and not individual. I think the next step in this process would be to have the IBCA and the ICGSA share with the IHSAA our dissatisfaction and task school administrators to make a proposal on behalf of girls athletics as a whole. The school administrators truly have the power in this process and are the significant body to exact change. I apologize if you receive this email multiple times. I am trying to reach as many as possible on the girls side and have combined a few mass emails. Feel free to forward this onto any other coaches or individuals you would like. Thanks for your time regarding this critical matter and support of girls basketball in Indiana. It is our game and WE need to make the most of it.

Gary Christlieb, Humanities Instructor

CGA Varsity Basketball Coach

Culver Academies

Here is the reply from Cox:

From: Bobby Cox 
Sent: Saturday, May 10, 2014 10:59 AM
To: Christlieb, Gary
Cc: Lintner, Dean Kathy; Thompson, Matthew; ExecStaff
Subject: Recent Decisions Surrounding Girls’ Basketball


I am in receipt of your message to Assistant Commissioner Sandra Walter regarding recent decisions surrounding girls’ basketball and future considerations. I appreciate your concerns and to that extent, wish to respond in an effort to provide you some context and perspective on how our organization arrived at these determinations.

For at least the past 17 seasons, the IHSAA Girls’ State Basketball Championships have been contested on Saturday of Week 35. These championships have been staged in direct conflict with the 64 boys’ sectional finals across our state. Over the course of these past 17 years, our staff and Board of Directors have witnessed a steady decline in interest and attendance in our girls’ basketball program, particularly at the state championship level. While this conflict is viewed as one of the main culprits, there are several other factors that have contributed to the downslide of girls basketball.

As you are keenly aware, the state championships have not been contested in Indianapolis for the past five years. This development occurred when the City of Indianapolis was awarded the contract to host the Big 10 men’s and women’s basketball championships in a renewal of their contracts. The Big 10 negotiated successfully for the city to accept both the men’s and women’s championships together with one caveat. That stipulation was that the women’s tournament must be contested on consecutive days beginning on a Thursday and concluding on a Sunday. This decision effectively caused the IHSAA to lose its date for its girls’ basketball state finals in Conseco Fieldhouse (now Bankers Life Fieldhouse). Subsequently after playing one year in Lucas Oil Stadium, the tournament was moved to Fort Wayne for two seasons and to Terre Haute for three seasons. Our hosts in these two cities delivered outstanding efforts and performed well beyond expectations in hosting these events and the IHSAA has nothing but high praise for the efforts. With that said, contesting our state finals outside the capitol city has hurt attendance and focus on this important championship.

Fortunately for the Association, the girls’ championships may be contested in Bankers Life Fieldhouse during the 2014-15 season without further adjustments as the Big 10 championships will be contested in Chicago. Moving forward, the Big 10 will return to Indianapolis for the 2015-16 season which would once again eradicate the Association from the Fieldhouse. A new option does exist for the Association with the recent completion of the $63 million dollar renovation of the Fairgrounds Coliseum. Our staff has toured this facility multiple times and it is our belief that the venue could host our girls’ championships if necessary. Our concern with a permanent decision of that nature would be the inevitable comparisons between our boys’ and girls’ championships and the potential for someone to view an unequal treatment of these events. Given our primary objective to create the best environment and opportunities for all our championships, moving the girls’ basketball season back one week has proven to be our best option.

In your message, you asked several questions and I want to respond to each of them so that hopefully you and your colleagues can see that this decision was thoroughly studied and communicated with our membership before any decision was finalized. I have reprinted your questions below and have provided a response.

1. How will this affect the multi-sport athlete who plays volleyball and basketball? Will girls now choose one sport over the other due to the overlap and ultimately hurt both sports, particularly in the smaller schools?

I’m not sure shifting a season one week will cause a different decision made by a student athlete on whether she will choose one sport over another. My sense is that when coaches of any sport make the team experience meaningful, worthy and fun, a student will engage in that activity.

2. With the calendar shift and addition of two extra games to the season, will girls in volleyball be at a greater risk of injury at the beginning of the basketball season due to reduced opportunities for proper basketball conditioning?

Currently our rules allow a student that moves directly (within one week) from one sport season to another to only accomplish five separate days of practice under the direct supervision of the coaching staff. This provision has been supported by the Commission on Sports Medicine which receives oversight from the Indiana State Medical Association and is the body where the IHSAA takes its medical guidance. Furthermore given the amount of activity girls in volleyball will maintain during this overlap period and in consideration of the non-school sponsored activities these students accomplish during the school year out of season and in the summer, it is our belief that conditioning is not an issue.

3. Will the shift impact the revenue of the volleyball tournament?

Since there has not been a proposal to either cut or move any portion of the volleyball tournament, I do not think that revenue in the volleyball tournament will be effected in any manner. If there is any negative impact in the volleyball tournament receipts, it reflects directly on the IHSAA budget and that then becomes my concern. Reimbursements to participating member schools in the tournament will not be effected.

4. How will the shift impact the quality of girls’ basketball overall and particularly, at the start of the season?

I do believe for those member schools that have a preponderance of girls that participate in volleyball and then transition to basketball, the early season development may come slower. To that point, let me illustrate that potential conflict.

i. When the Volleyball sectional begins, all 400 member schools that enter the tournament and have girls that are also basketball players will have at least two days of conflict. It does not mean that those girls could not accomplish a basketball practice on that Monday or Tuesday but that would take an increased level of cooperation between the school’s volleyball and girls’ basketball coach.

ii. After Tuesday of Volleyball sectional week, 200 schools are eliminated from the tournament. Those student athletes potentially could have 10 separate days of practice under the direct supervision of the basketball coaching staff implementing the two Saturdays available before a school could engage in their first interscholastic contest.

iii. After Saturday of the Volleyball sectional week, that number drops to 64 schools that maintain a conflict with this decision. Those students could accomplish six separate days of practice under the direct supervision of the basketball coaching staff. In consideration of the provision allowing a student moving directly from one season to another to accomplish only five separate days of practice, none of these students would have to miss a contest.

iv. After Tuesday of the following week, another 32 schools are eliminated from the volleyball tournament. Those student athletes could accomplish four separate days of practice and unless your school schedules your first basketball contest on Monday of the following week, these students would not miss a contest due to practice considerations.

v. Finally, and in fairness of consideration to insure this decision is a comparable overlap, there are 44 schools still participating in the football tournament when boys’ basketball practices begin. After the first week, 22 of those schools are eliminated. After two weeks, 10 more are eliminated from the football tournament. When the boys’ basketball authorized contest season begins, 12 schools vying for a state championship will experience a conflict. For 35 years, member schools have successfully dealt with this conflict and from my personal perspective, I do not believe this conflict has hindered the development or quality of boys’ basketball play in our state for one moment.

5. Is girls’ basketball the only sport which the start date of practice directly conflicts with the sectional of a previous season’s sport?

No. Boys’ and Girls’ Track and Field practices begin the week of the boys’ swimming sectionals and two weeks prior to the beginning of the boys’ basketball sectionals.

6. Since the shift was made to increase the revenue for boys’ basketball, there is growing concern regarding potential Title IX issues among the girls’ coaches.

This change has absolutely nothing to do with revenue for the boys’ tournament. It has everything to do with promoting the girls’ tournament and specifically the state finals. Please remember that member schools receive 98% of the net revenue from the boys’ and girls’ basketball sectionals and the football sectionals. If anything, moving the girls’ state finals off the Saturday where 64 boys’ sectional finals are contested should shift a total focus on the boys’ tournament at the sectional level and help member schools. Finally, in our current format, we allow membership to move their boys’ sectional final if there is a conflict at the girls’ state finals. Those Monday conclusions have traditionally proven to be harmed financially.

Finally, I would relate to your that this conversation about the girls’ basketball season has been discussed thoroughly at our area principal meetings with athletic directors and principals. With any decision of this magnitude, we examine as many perspectives as possible. In the final analysis, a decision to move the girls’ basketball season one week earlier has been deemed the most appropriate decision for the organization.

Thank you for your support of education based athletics in our state.


Bobby Cox


Indiana High School Athletic Association, Inc.

Anger and outrage leading to a weekend email in response that is reasonable and complete.  That’s good communication from all parties, but a resolution that pleases all appears to be an impossibility.

The voices I really want to hear are from the kids, who I imagine aren’t nearly as indignant or greedy as the coaches or administrators.  What they really want is to play, and they will be able to do that regardless of the shifting of the season.

The careers of coaches are on the line, and I respect that.  Many have families to feed, and if volleyball players bail on hoops because their volleyball team continues past the sectional, they will lose players for a significant period of the season.

Life isn’t perfect or even fair much of the time.  If athletic directors and principals approved this plan, the coaches’ beef should be with them – not the IHSAA.

6 thoughts on “Some Indiana high School girls basketball coaches furious over season shift

  1. Pauly Balst

    Could they have the boys return to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, then switch on and off annually with the girls at Bankers Life? Wasn’t Hinkle was suitable for about 172 straight IHSAA championships before moving Market Square Arena, or was that just the movie Hoosiers?

    I can understand families not wanting to go to Ft Wayne or Terre Haute.

    The IHSAA already ruined the boys tournament, so it’s only fair under title IX to ruin the girls too.

    Move the girls back to Indy, rotate with the boys at Pepsi and tell them all to shut up.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      The IHSAA has the same problem as the NCAA. Whatever option brings consensus among members is almost always the wrong answer.

  2. Jeff Gregory

    I might have missed it, but was there a response to shifting the volleyball back a week also?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Volleyball has not been shifted – at least not that I am aware of. That’s what has caused the overlap.

      1. Jeff Gregory

        Right. I was just wondering if the IHSAA responded to Holt when he wrote:

        “I simply don’t see the logic in this move. Why can we not also move volleyball back one week also? That seems to be the easy solution.”

        I wanted to know the reason the IHSAA didn’t want to do that.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          Volleyball’s first day of practice is the same as the rest of the fall sports – first Monday in August. Coaches would be hysterical if the game schedule was shifted without shifting the practice schedule, and moving to the last monday in July would open a whole different can of worms.


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