Their Time

January 29, 2015

It's an ongoing problem: How do you schedule boys' and girls' basketball games so both genders get maximum exposure? When it comes to postseason play, state associations use varying strategies, with some holding boys' and girls' finals at the same time and location and others separating them by a week or two.

Beginning in 2015-16, the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) will chart new waters, distancing its boys' and girls' title games by four weeks. This will allow the girls' state finals to be held before boys start sectional play and at Indianapolis's Bankers Life Fieldhouse--home to the NBA's Pacers and WNBA's Fever, and the same place as the boys' championship games.

But there's a caveat. In order to make the new schedule work, the girls' basketball season must begin one week earlier, pushing it further into the fall sports calendar. The most notable conflict is with volleyball, which starts sectional play the same week practices will begin for girls' basketball.

So far, the shift is receiving mixed reviews. "The girls needed their own championship weekend. That's an obvious fact," says Mark Holt, Head Girls' Basketball Coach at Barr-Reeve High School in Montgomery, Ind. "And getting back to Indianapolis [where the girls' games were prior to 2009], is just fantastic. But I think with the season start date change, there are some problems on the front end.

"Those of us with volleyball players on our rosters are going to lose important time with them to work on fundamentals, " he continues. "We also have to turn those volleyball legs into basketball legs. And then there comes a point where the mind catches up with the body and says, 'I'm really exhausted--physically and mentally.' That usually hits players in their third or fourth day of basketball."

IHSAA Assistant Commissioner Susan Walter defends the schedule adjustment. "What happens now is the girls' state basketball finals are three weeks before the boys' finals and so they compete with 64 boys' sectional games, which includes 128 teams throughout the state of Indiana," she explains. "As long as you continue to have that type of conflict, girls' basketball players will never get the attention they deserve, and attendance and media coverage will never be what it should be."

Moving the girls' tournament back to Indianapolis was another factor behind the decision. When Bankers Life Fieldhouse started hosting the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament on the same weekend as the girls' state championships in 2009, the IHSAA transported the girls' games to Fort Wayne for two years, and then to Terre Haute for the last three, which proved to be a deterrent for fans.

"We heard a lot of complaints from our member schools," Walter says. "Whenever we talked attendance, we would hear, 'If it was in central Indiana, people would be more apt to go.'"

This season, the Big Ten Tournament will be in Chicago, and the IHSAA will begin a five-year agreement with the Fieldhouse to host the girls' finals. In 2015-2016, the new earlier schedule will go into effect.

The conflict with volleyball is especially daunting for smaller schools like Barr-Reeve. Holt expects 14 of the 18 girls on his roster this year to play volleyball--on a team that typically makes deep postseason runs, securing a state title in 2013.

"In some ways, it's a good problem to have," Holt says. "Our girls are definitely coming in as winners. But in terms of early-season basketball training, we've already been losing two or three weeks of practice each season for the past four years."

Holt says he and his team have adapted. He avoids scheduling early-season games, works closely with the volleyball coach, and takes advantage of the rule allowing athletes who are switching sports to have only five practices prior to competition, instead of the standard 10. Yet he fears the new season structure will make things even tougher, as well as cause conflicts among coaches and deter student-athletes from participating in both sports statewide.

"I'm very lucky," Holt says. "Our volleyball coach is a former student of mine and a great friend, and we always communicate. But I know there are plenty of schools that do not have that kind of camaraderie between coaches."

Walter challenges athletic departments to find solutions. "I think basketball coaches have to step up right now and say 'I will work with the volleyball coach,'" she says. "It is a great thing if your volleyball girls are playing into the basketball season. Give your volleyball kids a break and then start your competitive season accordingly. There has to be communication, and I hope that our athletic directors are meeting with coaches and helping them work this out."
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