The passage of the Ohio High School Athletic Association competitive balance proposal is the first significant blow to private schools in the organization’s history.
Newark Catholic athletic director Bill Franks, however, is praising the move. Franks knows the next blow could be a death knell for athletic championships at private schools.
“If it’s a step towards keeping together one of the greatest tournament systems in the nation, I am all for it,” said Franks, also the school’s football coach.
The proposal, which was modified from one that was voted down in 2013, passed by a vote of 411 to 323. It will go into effect for the 2016-17 school year and includes open enrollment as a factor in the school’s sport classification for the first time.
A year ago, the proposal failed by 19 votes. The modifications were made after private school administrators requested a change to the way “attendance zones” are determined and public school administrators requested a change to the levels of penalty for students taking part in open enrollment depending on when they began attending their current school.
“It was such a sensible approach that it is going to make it possible for the association to accurately measure the impact of open enrollment and assess it accordingly,” Licking Valley Principal Wes Weaver said. “Hopefully, it will focus people’s attention on the actual impact of open enrollment on people’s rosters and quell some of the misinformed speculation.”
The OHSAA also had similar proposals voted down by member principals in 2011 and 2012. Only 83 member schools did not return a ballot this year during the two-week voting period. A recount of votes will be done during the weekend on a proposal to impose a fine on schools that do not return a ballot in future votes.
While OHSAA Commissioner Dan Ross noted his competitive balance committee will continue to meet to troubleshoot the implementation of this proposal and potentially to continue to improve on future proposals, the hope remains that this will delay a potential vote on splitting the public and private schools. Supporters of such a split pulled a proposal off the table in March 2013.
This proposal will have next to no influence on Division I schools, but Newark Superintendent Doug Ute had his eye on the vote. Ute has previously been a coach and administrator at smaller schools, and he sees no benefit for schools at any level if a split of public and private schools happens in the near future.
“What I am most happy about is the process,” Ute said. “Dr. Ross and his fine team at the OHSAA really listened and got a fair and balanced committee to look at this and then listened to the schools. I think that is why it passed.”
Newark Catholic already has received a sneak peek at what life could be like. Because of the move to seven divisions for football, the school was one of the smallest schools in Division VI this past season and was beaten by Bishop Ready in the regional finals.
Defending state champion baseball, regional champion volleyball and two-time regional runner-up girls basketball also could be affected in future years. One change to this year’s proposal was altering the effect on Newark Catholic caused by students from outside Newark who began attending Catholic schools at a young age.
“What I have told all of our coaches is we will continue to encourage, if you want a Christ-centered education with high levels of expectation with behavior, academics and athletics, to look into a Catholic education,” Franks said.
While the major influence of this month’s vote likely will be felt by private schools, it also could have a major effect on public schools.
Under the new setup, Columbus-area public schools will have attendance zones just as private schools do. If too many players come from outside the zones, those schools could move up a division. Licking Valley and Johnstown each were eliminated from the Division II district finals this past season by Columbus City League opponents.
“The establishment of attendance zones for multiple high school districts is a great first attempt to remedy a problem that has seemed particularly acute to us,” Weaver said. “I think back to girls basketball, where we would see the same players two years in a row playing for two different teams.”
Ross said in a conference call later Friday that potential changes to Division I could come in the future. In the past, however, Ross has said the OHSAA was unlikely to create a super division in other sports as it did in football.
Newark is the smallest school in the Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division, and despite massive growth, Watkins Memorial and Licking Heights remain two of the smallest Division I schools in the state.
“I know you don’t need as many kids on a team in basketball as football from a numbers situation,” Ute said. “But the argument could be made that, if you give us 1,000 kids in our high school, we are going to find another Jordan Dartis or someone in that group.”