In-state tournament needed

By Lucas Deal

Monday, while waiting for an edit at the DI, I became entangled in a very provocative conversation.

The focus of the discussion centered around Illinois’ four-point win over in-state school Bradley last weekend, as well as the Fighting Illini’s success in recent years against fellow in-state schools.

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After a short time, an idea was posed.

Illinois should have a tournament.

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    Now wait a second. Before you get confused, let me explain. I don’t mean the University of Illinois. No, Lou Henson’s boys used to have a tournament a while back, but all the teams they invited stunk and it was basically a televised scrimmage.

    I’m talking about an actual tournament, with actual teams from the state of Illinois.

    I think it’s a great idea, but the parameters of such an undertaking would be enormous. Who would be allowed to play? Where would it be? When would it occur and for how long? And, most importantly, who’s going to pay for it and who’s going to make all the money?

    Well, since the initial discussion, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea, and while I’m no scheduling guru, I think I just might have an idea how this could work. Let me take you through my idea.

    Who Plays?

    When the idea was first posed at the DI, we thought every team in Illinois should have a chance; but, if every team in Illinois was in a tournament together, it would never end.

    There has to be a set number of teams, and they must be Division I. Thus the following schools would be eligible: Illinois, Illinois State, all four directional schools (Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western), Illinois-Chicago, Chicago State, Loyola-Chicago, DePaul, Northwestern and Bradley.

    That’s only 12 teams, but if all 12 were allowed to play, the tournament would take at least four days. That’s too long.

    The best idea I can come up with is an eight-team single-elimination tournament with a championship and third-place game. This scenario would allow for a weekend tournament (Friday-Sunday) and no teams would have to play more than three games.

    As for the actual teams, I look at it this way. Under an eight-team system, the top four finishers from the previous tournament are automatically eligible, and the final four spots are given to the remaining teams with the best regular-season records from the previous year.

    Where, When?

    During our argument at the DI, none of us had a decent proposal for where this tournament would be. Chicago is home to four of the 12 teams and Peoria, Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington-Normal also have teams involved, so neutral courts in those areas don’t actually exist. It’s also doubtful the directional schools would have the facilities to host such an event.

    Giving the previous champion host honors might create a Henson/Illini-esque beatdown problem during the tournament’s infancy, but holding the tournament at Champaign’s Assembly Hall the same weekend as the IHSA state football playoffs would create a fantastic sports weekend for Illinois residents willing to travel to the C-U.

    That being said, I would have the tournament in the state capital during Thanksgiving weekend. The tournament would begin the Friday after the holiday and conclude on Sunday afternoon.

    By giving Springfield hosting privileges, the tournament would avoid problems of home-field advantage and would be easily accessible for fans from each of the dozen teams.

    As for the facility, the Prairie Capital Convention Center in downtown Springfield is centrally located near several major hotels and seats between 3,000 and 9,000 people – depending on the event.

    That could be higher, obviously, but if the Fighting Illini are willing to fly to Vegas to play a tournament in a high school gym, I think they’d play in the P.C.C.C. Tickets would be equally distributed to each fan base for the first round, with a small amount reserved for the general public. Fans with opening-round tickets would be given vouchers for the remaining rounds. If their team wins, they can redeem their voucher for a ticket to the next round, if they lose, the voucher becomes void. Also, all vouchers not redeemed by fans of winning teams within three hours of an opening-round victory would become void and go on sale to the general public.

    Who’s going to pay?

    Now this is where things get tricky. Everything else worked out pretty well, but this is much harder. It’s doubtful the schools will throw down, and because the Illini will almost always be favorites, they might feel pressured to spend more.

    There has to be sponsors, and it’s only logical they be from Illinois. State Farm and Country Insurance – while rivals – would both be good sponsors, as would Chicago-based businesses such as the Tribune Company, Boeing, US Cellular, McDonald’s and United Airlines.

    Profits from such a tournament would also be difficult to determine, but it’s only fair that the teams who are the most successful receive the largest earnings. The games could be broadcast over local airways, WGN or maybe even the new Big Ten channel; and radio broadcasts would be available throughout the state.

    I’d go into more detail on this if I could, but I just don’t know enough about business and I don’t want to look stupid.

    So there you go. I’ll call it the “Illinois Intrastate Shootout.” I know it’s got some kinks that need to be worked out, but it’s a good enough plan to try. And even though it’s doubtful that it’ll ever happen, it sure would be fun if it did.

    Lucas Deal is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]