Prep Boys Basketball

Return engagement: IHSA sends boys basketball tournament back to Champaign-Urbana

State Farm Center on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana, will be the host site for the Illinois High School Association boys basketball state tournaments beginning with the 2020-21 season. A joint proposal from the university, Visit Champaign County and others was selected Monday morning as the winning bid by the IHSA Board of Directors. | Photo courtesy University of Illinois Athletics
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 16, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY -- It took a quarter century for it to happen, but the Illinois boys basketball state tournament is back where it belongs.

All that was needed was creativity, commitment and compromise.

Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois provided all three.

Fixing the issues that forced the Illinois High School Association to move the tournament to Peoria a quarter-century ago, Visit Champaign County, the university and others who partnered in a joint proposal convinced the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors to extend a three-year contract to Champaign to host the tournament. Peoria was the only other city in the running.

The State Farm Center will be the epicenter for all four classes beginning next winter through the 2022-23 season.

"Their bid was powerful," IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said Monday afternoon after the board met earlier in the day. "They really went above and beyond and doing all the things we would expect to put forth a very good bid. When comparing for the boys tournaments, Champaign rose to the top just because of the resourcefulness of the bid. You could tell that we were wanted there."

It originally was that way for a majority of the 77 years Champaign-Urbana played host to the tournament.

From Kenney Gym to Huff Hall to Assembly Hall, the state tournament was held in the University of Illinois' primary arena from 1919-1995. Accusations of price gouging by hotels, lack of activities aside from the games and an outdated facility forced the IHSA to move the tournaments to Peoria's Carver Arena beginning with the 1995-96 season.

Champaign has been fighting to get it back ever since, highlighting the $170 million renovation of State Farm Center, which was completed in 2016.

"We are committed to providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience to our state's high school students, their coaches, their families and their fans," University of Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said. "It's on us to deliver that. ... I've got great confidence we will deliver on an experience that really is unparalleled in high school basketball."

The tournaments are expected to generate a $4 million boost to the Champaign-Urbana economy.

Moreso, it creates a destination for high school basketball players the way it did for decades.

"I'm old school in the fact I really believe (the state tournament) belongs on the college campus," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "When I think of Illini basketball, it's what I remember. I remember the old Assembly Hall being packed and everyone coming."

In recent years, dwindling attendance in Peoria robbed the state tournament of some of its mystique.

Anderson said smaller attendance figures were not part of the reason Champaign-Urbana's bid trumped Peoria's submission. However, a site change and a format change could inject new life into the crown jewel of the IHSA state tournament series.

Beginning next winter, the IHSA will play host to all four classes over a three-day weekend with four state championship games being contested on that Saturday.

"We're obviously hopeful a number of things will increase the attendance," Anderson said. "One is the format change, another is the new venue.

"We remain hopeful this process will draw increased attendance."