By STEVE HERMAN
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Multiclass basketball seems here to stay, but in what form?
Now in the second decade of separate high school tournaments, it's still a divisive topic and an issue that may be far from settled as the 2008-09 season gets under way.
"We surveyed our membership and determined that there were about 61 percent of the schools that were unhappy with some part of the present system we've got," said Ed Gilliland, the athletic director at LaPorte and chairman of the class sports committee of the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
While Lawrence North, Batesville, Fort Wayne Luers and Lafayette Catholic begin the new season as the favorites in their respective classes, Gilliland's group is waiting to learn the fate of a proposal it made to the Indiana High School Athletic Association two weeks ago to consolidate the tourney format into three classes.
The IHSAA executive committee directed Commissioner Blake Ress to survey the association's membership, even though there's virtually no chance the IHSAA will go back to the single class format.
"I think it's done what it was intended to do, to give more kids and more schools an opportunity to win. I think it's been successful in that respect," Ress said of the multiclass format. "You could argue for and against it ... but it has accomplished that goal."
Which is what principals and athletic directors intended after an initial survey in the mid-1990s showed wide support for separate classes.
In 1995, a study committee recommended multiclass tournaments in boys and girls basketball, along with soccer, baseball, softball and volleyball. The IHSAA board approved it 12-5 the next spring, and a referendum among the state's principals upheld the vote.
Other than scrapping the "Tournament of Champions" among the four separate winners after the first two years, the new format has remained intact. But that doesn't mean Ress hasn't gotten complaints.
"Every year I hear that," he said. "But it's primarily people who are kind of my age, who have loved that old tournament and miss it and want to go back to it. I don't really hear that from the schools or from the kids. I mainly hear it from people who have been out of school for a lot of years or the media."
Meanwhile, the harshest critics have all but given up hopes of returning to the one-class tournaments.
"It is kind of a futile effort, the way the IHSAA has handled this," said Bobby Plump, the hero of Milan's 1954 upset of Muncie Central and the inspiration for the iconic movie "Hoosiers." "They're not too receptive to any suggestions from people outside the organization.
"I haven't changed my opinion. As to why I was in favor of the single-class tournament, I thought it was a disservice to the student-athlete because you're telling them they're not good enough to play against the other schools," Plump said.
He would rather have a three-class system than four.
"Frankly, I think a two-class system would work much better. But, honestly, my opinion doesn't count very much with the IHSAA."
Since the new format went into effect in 1997-98, a handful of teams have dominated Class 4A, the state's largest schools, but others such as Class A's Triton last year, won championships that never would have been possible before.
Triton is ranked third in the preseason Associated Press poll, behind Lafayette Catholic and Rockville.
Luers, which edged Winchester by 2 points for the title last spring, again is the favorite in 2A and has perhaps the top returning player in the state in 6-foot-7 junior DeShaun Thomas, who already has committed to Ohio State for 2010.
Thomas was the only underclassman on the AP's All-State first team last season. Among the third-team selections back for their senior seasons are Tyler Koch of Winchester, which was ranked second behind Luers, and IU recruit Derek Elston of Tipton, which was ranked third.
Defending 3A champion Washington was ranked second behind Batesville, which returns Evansville recruit Colt Ryan, while 3A runner-up Harding was picked third.
Lawrence North, which won three titles with Greg Oden and Mike Conley in 2004-06, appears ready to make another run in Class 4A. The Wildcats have a deep roster led by 6-9 Purdue recruit Jeff Robinson and 6-8 Louisville recruit Stephan Van Treese.
Marion, the 4A runner-up to Brownsburg last season, returns North Carolina State recruit Scott Wood and is ranked second behind Lawrence North.
IU recruit Jordan Hulls is back for Bloomington South, which is ranked third in 4A, and another Purdue recruit, Kelsey Barlow, returns for fourth-ranked Indianapolis Cathedral. Two other teams led by Purdue recruits are ranked in the AP preseason Top 10s, with Patrick Bade of 4A No. 10 Franklin Central and D.J. Byrd of 3A No. 9 North Montgomery.