State Champions Invitational Announced

The time has come where independent, academy-type programs that don’t compete for state championships, and those programs that do as members of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), will separately compete in national end-of-season tournaments. The inaugural State Champions Invitational for state champions has been announced and will take place April 7-9 in Florida. What does this announcement mean for high school basketball and for the FAB 50 National Rankings?

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The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness and increased the speed of change with regards to many pressing issues and high school basketball didn’t go unscathed. In recent seasons, it’s obvious independent, academy-type schools have dominated the top of the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com and the pandemic has excellerated the exodus of elite talent from the country’s public schools to these programs. Every season there are terrific teams that compete for traditional state championships, but in the current climate it’s apparent teams belonging to traditional state associations are having a harder time competing at the same level of the nation’s top independents.

The State Champions Invitational will feature state champions in a four-team tournament (both a boys and girls version). The inaugural State Champions Invitational will take place April 7-9 in Florida, most likely in greater Tampa Bay region or Orlando according to event organizers. Selected championship teams belonging to state associations part of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) will now play in a separate end-of-season tournament. All six games of the State Champions Invitational will be on ESPN family of networks.

Today’s announcement of the event’s creation by Skokie, Ill.-based Paragon Marketing Group magnifies the reality of high school basketball’s current climate. Eligible state association championship teams from Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and Washington, D.C., were previously considered for GEICO Nationals. Four state champions from those same states will now be selected for the State Champions Invitational. Previously, those selected teams participated in GEICO Nationals, an end-of-season tournament which combined both eligible state champions and highly-ranked independent programs.

“The State Champions Invitational is a natural progression to create more post-season opportunres for boys and girls teams across the country,” said Rashid Ghazi, Paragon Marketing Group President. “As we developed GEICO Nationals, it’s become apparent more state champions want the opportunity to play and a number of states have requested a national tournament for state champions only.”

According to event organizers with Paragon Marketing, state champions from other state associations outside the previously mentioned group will be pursued to be part of the State Champions Invitational going forward. The goal for the event is to expand to eight teams (both boys and girls) in 2022-23.

GEICO Nationals, created by Paragon Marketing at the end of the 2008-09 season, will take place March 31 – April 2 in Ft. Myers, Fla. It will consist of an eight-team bracket (and a four-team girls bracket). Since the inception of GEICO Nationals, selected state association champions have been added to the field. As more state associations granted a deserving state champion permission to participate in the event, more independent programs developed to the level necessary to compete at GEICO Nationals, and there are many more with ambitions to play in the event.

Since GEICO Nationals’ inception, only independent programs or those belonging to the newly-formed National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC) have captured the tournament title. The competition level at that event has steadily increased, making it tougher for state champions to advance through the bracket.

An end-of-season tournament for willing state associations now have their own event to crown a champion.

Ballislife Commentary: Creating a tournament such as the State Champions Invitational has been in the making for a couple of years. Paragon Marketing has done an admirable job growing GEICO Nationals. By creating the State Champions Invitational and removing the independent clubs from the equation, however, the event operators increase their chances of attracting new state association champions to the fold. In recent years, more state associations have placed schedule restrictions on member programs and that makes the State Champions Invitational a more attractive option for full NFHS members going forward.

Independent programs can and do add players to their rosters well after the season begins. GEICO Nationals does have a cutoff date for event rosters, but many state association officials feel the independent programs do not operate on the same playing field as their member programs. If there is ever a sentiment from state association officials or fans that a state championship season is somehow diminished by losing at GEICO Nationals, this new event will alleviate that perception.

As far as the FAB 50 National Team Rankings are concerned, the announcement of a separate end-of-season tournament for full member state association participants doesn’t change how it will be compiled. The final rankings won’t be determined until after a champion at the State Champions Invitational is crowned.

The NFHS offers rules books for each sport, but ultimately each state association is responsible for applying rules and enforcing them. Each state has its own set of rules. Rules for eligibility and sanctioning are not uniform across the country and some states can play independent programs, National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC) programs or even programs that don’t have an educational campus, while other states have strict rules prohibiting its teams from playing any team in one of those three different groups.

We felt the day would eventually come when NIBC clubs that dominate GEICO Nationals invites would participate in a tournament separate from state association full members. We have contemplated compiling two separate weekly polls for full members and independents, but as long as those two groups of teams play each other in sanctioned games during the season, we’ll continue to publish the FAB 50 in its current fashion.

Should the day come when full members and independents do not play each other at all, we’ll have to reconsider how we compile the nation’s longest-running weekly rankings. Going forward, there will be two separate champions at GEICO Nationals and the State Champions Invitational, but players, coaches and fans will still be interested in knowing where their team stacks up against the nation’s other elite teams, regardless of their affiliation.

Regardless of how both these end-of-season events expand nationally, the FAB 50 will remain the standard for how teams are judged against each other from a national perspective based on what happens on the court.

Note: The FAB 50 powered by Ballislife.com is a continuation of the National Sports News Service ratings that began in 1952. These were the first national high school rankings and the late Art Johlfs of Minnesota compiled them. They were compiled for many years by the late Barry Sollenberger of Phoenix, who merged them into the FAB 50 22 years ago.

Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at ronnie@ballislife.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores

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