A proposal to split Ohio’s high school sports tournaments into public and non-public divisions has been withdrawn and will be replaced by a formula to address a perceived competitive imbalance.
Principals in Ohio High School Athletic Association member schools were set to vote in May on the split, an idea that did not originate with the OHSAA. Wooster Triway Superintendent Dave Rice gathered signatures from member schools to have the split put on the ballot after principals twice voted down a formula to determine divisional alignment.
Currently, divisions are assigned based strictly on enrollment. The formula that was voted down would also have taken into account tradition, based on recent championships and state tournament appearances; socioeconomics, based on the number of students receiving a free lunch; and boundaries, based on open enrollment and in the case of some non-public schools, the lack of official boundary lines.
The proposal that will replace the idea for split tournaments on the ballot would only include the boundary issue, Rice said, potentially making teams — from public and non-public schools — that draw students from outside geographical boundaries move up a division or more in sports.
“Separation of the tournaments is one end of the continuum and the other end of the continuum is doing nothing,” OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross said Friday in a news conference. “I’m a very strong believer that doing nothing is not an option and I’m a very firm believer that separating the tournaments is not a good option either.
“This piece isn’t the final answer to this. This issue has been around for a long time and its going to still be around. But we believe this option is the fairest.”
Scott Beatty, superintendent of Dalton Local Schools, was also active in the proposal for separate tournaments. Beatty and Rice expressed Friday that separating the tournaments was not the end goal, but they would not have the new proposal without the first.
Beatty also stressed the importance of making sure the new proposal passes, or the separation of tournaments will almost assuredly resurface.
“We need to move forward,” Beatty said. “There is a strong contingency of people still pushing for the separate tournaments. This has to pass. This state has to move forward. There is a lot to be worked out, but I believe it’s a very good start.”
Under the new system, rosters would be checked for students who are on the team but live outside the district boundaries or attendance zones, for districts with more than one high school. For purposes of the system, private schools’ boundaries would be the public school district where the private school is located. For example, Fremont St. Joseph Central Catholic would be within the Fremont City School District. Any athlete from outside the boundary would be subject to a multiplier, which would then be added to enrollment figures to determine a school’s division.
For basketball, that multiplier would be five. In football, it would be two. For the other team sports affected by the new system (soccer, volleyball and baseball), the multiplier would be somewhere in between two and five. The new competitive balance proposal would not apply to any other sports with the exception of team wrestling, which Ross said would be considered if the proposal passes.
The new system would go into effect in 2015-16 school year if it passes. The OHSAA plans to use 200 to 250 schools as a pilot study this fall if it does pass and will pilot every school in the OHSAA the following year.
“If your roster is filled with kids not from your area than it will be multiplied,” Ross said.
One potential change would be that divisions, now calculated biannually based on Ohio Department of Education numbers, would be calculated yearly based on roster data. Also, the OHSAA said that schools will have to demonstrate a minimum level of competitiveness to be subject to the formula.
After the OHSAA agreed to put the formula on the ballot, Rice said he withdrew his petition, which was his right as the original petitioner.
“It is generally believed that in addition to the size of enrollment, students on a school’s team roster who are from outside that school’s geographic boundary or attendance zone does affect athletic success,” Ross said. “So this concept is not something that is entirely new.”
In fact, in 1951, a measure was put before the OHSAA to make any student attending a non-public school outside of his residential district ineligible for sports.
“Public schools feel it is not fair that they adhere to defined limits while Catholic and other private schools have no boundaries,” the Fremont News-Messenger wrote at the time.
Rice, who said before his petition was withdrawn that he wasn’t sure it would pass, said he was open to considering other ideas to address competitive imbalance.
“We never wanted separate tournaments,” he said. “But after the referendums failed, we felt like this was the only thing left to do.”
Rice and other Wayne County school superintendents surveyed other school administrators in 2010. More than three-quarters offered support for a weighted divisional alignment that took into account such factors as boundaries, and almost that many supported splitting tournaments for public and non-public schools, which is done in several states throughout the country.
The superintendents took their findings to the OHSAA, which formed a committee to make its recommendations, which was the competitive balance formula. After the referendum failed a second time, OHSAA administrators considered the closed. Rice didn’t, and he got enough administrators to agree with him to put the measure on the OHSAA ballot.
There were concerns that if tournaments were split, it could lead to a complete separation, with non-public schools ultimately leaving the OHSAA.
“I also believe separation of the tournaments would have had many far-reaching ramifications that likely would have changed the landscape of interscholastic athletics in Ohio for years,” Ross said.