4-Class system? Yes or no?


4-Class system? Yes or no?

The four-class format for high school basketball in Illinois has been a major topic of controversy ever since the Illinois High School Association opted to give its signature event its second major face-lift in 2008.

From 1908 through 1971, the state tournament was a one-for-all and all-for-one competition involving all schools, big and small, urban and rural.

In 1972, when the IHSA began to feel that small schools were no longer competitive with larger schools, the two-class system was introduced, thanks in large part to the lobbying of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association.

In 2008, the IHSA adopted a four-class system.

"We went from two to four classes because that's what our membership wanted," said Marty Hickman, executive director of the IHSA. "Numerous people brought it to the forefront. We talked about it for years. They felt at the very beginning of the tournament that it was very difficult for some schools to compete in their class."

Hickman pointed out that schools in Class A with enrollments of 100 to 250 and schools in Class AA with enrollments of 800 to 1,500 were particularly affected. They felt they couldn't compete with larger schools in their class. They proposed that two more classes were needed to level the playing field for one and all.

Hickman is aware of the criticism to this point, that the caliber of competition has weakened, that the tournament is too watered down and the lack of quality is reflected in declining attendance. He once said the IHSA would scuttle the four-class system if it became clear that it wasn't working. But he isn't ready to toss in the towel.

"At the end of the day, 10 to 15 years from now, people will say it was a good change," Hickman said. "At first, there will be a significant amount of controversy, as there was in 1972. But when you look at how the schools viewed that change, clearly more schools are supportive of the change now than when we went from one to two classes. In the schools, this isn't the controversy that it is in the general public and media."

But critics insist the four-class format isn't working. They call for a return to the two-class system. In fact, some still argue that the one-class system was best of all, that there never should been any change. They contend that the great tradition and historical significance of the state tournament have been wiped out.

"What we are seeing in (the girls state basketball tournament) this year is not an anomaly. This is the four-class monster that has been created," one veteran observer said.

He spoke after watching Quincy Notre Dame crush Breese Central in the girls Class 2A championship. And he re-emphasized his displeasure after Montini dumped Vernon Hills 56-38 for the Class 3A title and Whitney Young trounced Edwardsville 63-51 in the Class 4A final.

Will the boys' finals be any closer? Any more competitive? Any less embarrassing?

"It is sad when I hear adults talking about more kids having the experience of being given trophies," former La Grange coach Ron Nikcevich said. "But you never hear it from kids. They want to play the best."

Nikcevich, who guided La Grange to the Class AA championship in 1970, was opposed to the two-class system from the outset. So you can imagine how he feels about four classes.

"I always felt that the Illinois state basketball tournament was such a great and grand event," he said. "For an Illinois citizen, it might have been the greatest sporting event of any kind. He or she would look forward to that event far more than the World Series or Final Four.

"I think of old Huff Gym, the clamor for tickets during the time before television. Then television came (in 1952) and there still was a clamor for tickets. Then came the Assembly Hall (in 1963)...sellouts, ticket scalpers, brokers...it was so special.

"Illinois high school basketball is the best high school basketball I the United States because of its consistency...tradition, teams, coaches, players, customs. There was a romance to the Illinois high school tournament. You have to be a historian to appreciate Hebron and Cobden and the small schools that came to Champaign and electrified the crowd."

Then came the two-class system in 1972 and everything began to change for the worse, Nikcevich said. "The class system was sprung on us and it almost had something clandestine about the manner in which it happened. Of the total number of votes eligible to be cast, the biggest percentage was those who failed to vote," he said.

"I agree the small schools got an identity and drew big crowds. But the big-class tournament took a major hit. Since the inception of the two-class system, how many sellouts did the Assembly Hall have? What happened to the Downstate schools that used to be such a presence in the state tournament...Collinsville, Benton, Mount Vernon, Centralia, Paris?"

Instead, Nikcevich argues that the state tournament has been put into the hands of backroom politicians who exist within the structure of the Illinois educational system, the establishment, who have put together a defense mechanism anticipating an outcry against their position and have completely repudiated the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's stand against it.

"There is only one Eiffel Tower, only one Taj Mahal, only one Mona Lisa, only one Hope diamond, only one Bible, only one Koran," Nikcevich said. "When you take things of that magnitude and majesty and say to a person: 'Don't go to Eiffel A, the Eiffel AAA is better. Don't go to Taj Mahal A, go to Taj Mahal AAA,' we've lost the majesty of what the state tournament was."

Former Pinckneyville coach Dick Corn, who won two state titles in Class A after the school won a state title in the one-class system in 1948, prefers the two-class system. "For the health of high school basketball in Illinois, we need to stay with two classes," he said.

"If you study Indiana and Missouri, people don't identify with their state champions. Missouri has five, Indiana has four. But the IHSA isn't listening to the coaches. The IBCA's board of directors voted 31-1 against the four-class format. Only one coach wanted to see change. Our former players (at Pinckneyville) would vote to stay with two classes."

Steve Goers, who retired at Rockford Boylan as the winningest coach in state history and is a former president of the IBCA, said the IHSA "is throwing tradition out the window. Why is the IHSA doing this? They want to please everybody. They want to make everybody happy, to give people who never have been to Peoria a chance to go to Peoria," he said.

Ron Ferguson, who coached Thornridge to state titles in 1971 (one class) and 1972 (two classes), said he wasn't for the two-class system originally but came to realize that it was a good idea. But four classes? He'll have to be convinced all over again.

"The two-class system allowed other teams to be competitive. It brought the South back to the state tournament," he said. "But I'm not for four classes. I could be wrong and change my opinion but I think tradition will be gone so more teams will get trophies. Going to the state tournament won't feel the same."

Season in Review: Wayne Selden gives Bulls house money after Justin Holiday deal


Season in Review: Wayne Selden gives Bulls house money after Justin Holiday deal

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter 

Midseason expectations: The Justin Holiday trade was far more about the second-round picks the Bulls acquired than the players. MarShon Brooks never even came to Chicago, and Wayne Selden was expected to get some run on the wing as an end-of-the-bench rotation player. His expectations shifted slightly when Chandler Hutchison suffered a broken toe and ultimately missed the remainder of the season. Selden was expected to log minutes, keep the ball moving and hit a few shots here and there. Again, whatever he provided was simply house money after acquiring a pair of second-round picks from Memphis.

What went right: Well, he was just about as subpar as Justin Holiday was? Seriously, the Bulls were buyers at the trade deadline and Selden was essentially a throw-in to match up salaries, and Selden’s 8.1 PER in Chicago was slightly worse than Holiday’s 8.8 in Memphis. Selden had a terrific January and with the Bulls prior to the All-Star break, he averaged 7.1 points on 44 percent shooting. Nothing to write home about, but solid (and hit 44 percent of his 3-pointers). Also, while Selden only averaged 1.7 assists he did a nice job on the second unit pushing pace by himself, driving and kicking and finding open shooters. He wasn’t necessarily a positive defensively but wasn’t poor on that end, either.

What went wrong: He showed very little consistency. As always, it was difficult for any of these young players to put together good stretches of play given the injuries and roster turnover, but Selden was up and down once the All-Star break rolled around. His shooting dipped down to 39 percent and he hit just 24 percent of his triples in his last 21 games. He popped up now and again with a 20-point outing or a double-double, but it was few and far between a simply average season.

The Stat: 20-8-4

Alright, so we cherry-picked it. But work with us. Selden had an outstanding night in the final game of January, scoring 20 points on 6 of 10 shooting along with four 3-pointers and eight assists. That statline of 20 points, 8 assists and 4 3-pointers was accomplished only one other time by a Bulls player in 2018-19, when Zach LaVine had 47 points, 9 assists and 6 3-pointers in the quadruple-overtime game. LaVine accomplished his feat in 56 minutes; Selden needed just 36.

2019-20 Expectations: Will he be back next season. He’d be a cheap option and the Bulls are going to have to fill out their roster. It might depend on what happens with Ryan Arcidiacono in restricted free agency and what the Bulls do in the draft. For the sake of this story we’ll assume he’s back on a small, one-year deal.

Selden’s goal will be consistency from beyond the arc and pushing in transition. The return of Denzel Valentine could give the Bulls two nice options on the wing behind Arcidiacono (or even Kris Dunn) to provide some offense. Even if Selden can work his way up from 31.6 percent to 34 or 35 percent it’ll make a world of difference for his NBA future. Past that, he’s simply going to be a practice body behind the Bulls’ starting wings and Hutchison.

Should the Bears trade for Robbie Gould? The answer is not a cut-and-dry 'yes'

Should the Bears trade for Robbie Gould? The answer is not a cut-and-dry 'yes'

Just as Ryan Pace’s pre-draft press conference was wrapping up Tuesday afternoon at Halas Hall, a report — which NBC Sports Chicago confirmed — dropped: Robbie Gould wants out of San Francisco, pulling his contract proposals and formally requesting a trade. 

Gould did not report to the voluntary beginning of the San Francisco 49ers’ offseason program, which started earlier this month, and he told ESPN he wants to play closer to his family — which resides in Chicago. 

The 49ers don’t have to do anything, given they placed the franchise tag on the 36-year-old in February, and could hope that Gould ultimately shows up for their season opener on Sept. 8. That’s important to note. It’s conceivable that a kicker with the kind of track record of Gould could show up the day the regular season begins and be fine. 

So that’s where a dive into Gould’s trade request begins. The 49ers can claim they have leverage, and figure a guy who still has some good years left in his leg will ultimately show up. In other words: John Lynch isn’t going to give Gould up for nothing. 

Kicker trades, though, are rare in recent NFL history. A few recent ones: The Pittsburgh Steelers traded a sixth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Josh Scobee in 2015; in 2014, the Denver Broncos traded a conditional seventh-round pick to the New York Giants for Brandon McManus, who was likely to be released prior to the season anyway. And Cody Parkey, way back in 2014, was traded from the Indianapolis Colts (who didn't need him) to the Philadelphia Eagles (who did) for a running back during the preseason. 

The Scobee trade may be the best measuring stick, given he was expensive (he earned $3.45 million in 2015) and effective (he made 87.5 percent of his kicks in the four years prior to the trade). So for these purposes, let’s say it’ll take a sixth-round pick to acquire Gould. A few things to consider: 

1. The money.

The Bears have $16 million in cap space right now, which will decrease to around $13 million after this week’s NFL Draft. So they have the money to acquire Gould right now, though presumably trading for him would require a contract extension. Currently, the Bears are $12 million over the cap in 2020, and still need to hammer out a contract extension for offensive lineman Cody Whitehair and, possibly, edge rusher Leonard Floyd. Cap space is exceedingly fluid — more likely, the Bears are actually about $2 million over next year’s cap, if it rises by $10 million, and that doesn’t include rollover cap — and the Bears could make Gould work. It’d take some creativity, and perhaps a difficult cut here or there, but it could work. 

2. The draft.

They could offer a 2020 sixth round pick, either their own or the conditional one they acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles for Jordan Howard, which could rise to a fifth-round pick if Howard meets a certain threshold of production (fans frustrated with the Howard trade likely wouldn’t be if the pick the Bears got for him got them Gould, right?). After cashing in to acquire edge rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Anthony Miller, the Bears only have five picks in 2019. Draft picks are an incredibly valuable resource — it’s the best way to add good players on cheap contracts — and trading more away to bring in a kicker may give Pace some pause. 

3. The market.

Another place that’s close to home for the Gould family: Green Bay. Could the Packers jettison Mason Crosby — who’s in the last year of his contract and has shown signs of decline the last few years — in favor of Gould? A few other teams close to Chicago either don’t need a kicker (the Colts have Adam Vinatieri, the Lions have Matt Prater, the Chiefs have Harrison Butker), don’t have the money to pull off a trade (the Vikings have just under $2 million in cap space) or don't look ready to contend (the Bengals are...just kind of there).

The Browns could be a fit, given Gould’s proven ability to kick in poor weather and their designs on competing in 2019, though rookie Greg Joseph hit 85 percent of his kicks in 2018 and is inexpensive. So the question here: What would other teams offer for Gould? Better than a sixth-round pick? And how many teams would actually have interest?

4. The guys on the roster. The Bears signed three kickers over the last few months: First Redford Jones, then Chris Blewitt, then Elliott Fry. A handful of tryouts isn’t enough to get the full picture of who these guys are, but the best solution for the Bears would be to solve their kicking problems with an effective, inexpensive player. That being said: None of those three players has ever kicked in an NFL game, and it’d be hard to criticize the Bears if they didn’t give any of them a shot in favor of adding Gould. 

“For us, and I've said this all along really since the offseason started, it's (about) let's increase our competition there,” Pace said Tuesday. “As you know, we have three on the roster currently. Doesn't mean we can't add to that still going forward and creating as many pressure situations here as we can and just let the dust settle where it may.”

5. The pressure.

Windows to win open and shut awfully quickly in the NFL. For all we know, the Bears’ best chance to win a Super Bowl with this current core of players — or with this coaching staff and front office — was in 2018, only to have it brutally end with Cody Parkey’s infamous double-doink. It would be one of the greatest failures in franchise history if another team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations saw their season end because of a missed field goal.

Gould's only missed three of his 85 field goals in the last three years, having re-made himself after being released by the Bears (under a previous coaching staff) prior to the 2016 season. If he indeed is available, he represents the Bears’ best shot at fixing the kicking issues that’ve plagued this team since letting him go. 

So clearly, if Gould indeed is available, the Bears have plenty about which to think. It’s not as cut-and-dry as simply shouting “bring back Robbie!” in the general direction of Halas Hall. But if it takes a sixth-round pick, and a contract is worked out with Gould that minimizes his cap hit in at least 2020, it’s easy to see why the pros would outweigh the cons for the Bears. 

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