That’s not fair!

How many times have you heard that lament while attending a sporting event?

Fairness is an interesting concept – and surprisingly nebulous.

What exactly is fair? What does it mean?

Illinois schools begin postseason basketball play this week with Class 1A and 2A girls regionals. In an effort to be more “fair” the IHSA has adopted a sectional complex system. Under the system teams are seeded and assigned to “regionals” based on seed, not geography.

The argument is it isn’t fair if several good teams are lumped in a regional, while the neighboring regional may be composed of less talented teams. So, to alleviate that perceived inequality, teams are seeded so theoretically the best teams play less talented teams early in the tournament.

I understand the concept, but how is it fair to the weaker teams. The teams that seemingly could use a break are given the most difficult route through the postseason.

In addition, the sectional complex format frequently eliminates postseason matchups between natural rivals – something that seems unfair to fans.

And, try as we might, tournaments will never be truly fair. Frankly, no game, not match-up is truly fair – that’s what makes the games so interesting.

For instance, is it fair if my team is stocked with 6-foot-5 players while your team has no one over 5-foot-11? Is it fair is your team is markedly quicker than mine?

The Carbondale vs. Mount Vernon game I covered Friday night is a classic example.

The teams weren’t that different in terms of stature, but the two teams had disparate approaches to the game. Mount Vernon wanted to shorten the game with a deliberate offense that would limit possessions. Carbondale wanted an uptempo game to take advantage of its speed.

For about 28 minutes, Mount Vernon dictated the tempo and held the lead. Carbondale gained the momentum late to tie the game in regulation. The overtime was played at Carbondale’s pace and the Terriers won handily.

Frankly, it’s impossible to engineer equity or fairness. Although it seems obvious, it doesn’t keep us from trying.

For years Illinois had “a” state basketball tournament. In the early 70s it was decided that the smallest schools had little or no chance of winning the tournament. That assessment is pretty much true. As a result, the tournament was split in two – a big school tournament and a small school tournament.

That solution worked … for a generation.

Then, it was decided that the smallest schools still had little chance of winning the Class 1A tournament. Again, there is an element of truth to that, but at what point do we realize that life isn’t always fair. Once again, the classes were split in two.

I’m not sure how much “fairer” the state tournament is today. I do know that more classes creates more double teams and more complaints about how unfair the system is.

Given the fluid nature of enrollments, teams on the cusp can move up or down a class. If a team moves up, the complaints are inevitable – it’s not fair to be the smallest school in their new class. Yet, there we no complaints about being the biggest school in the smaller class.

Fair? You tell me.

LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.


Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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