The Ohio High School Athletic Association is playing defense.
“I feel the OHSAA is trying to stop the split of public and private school divisions by trying to pass the competitive balance formula once again to member schools,” Colonel Crawford Athletic Director David Sheldon said.
Without a doubt, and who could blame them?
They are the last people who want to run double the tournaments and take on four times the hassle.
And if one day the schools vote to separate publics from privates, what’s to keep the private schools from staying in the OHSAA? Public schools think they are under siege now. Just wait until the private schools band together, form their own association and recruiting becomes an open practice.
Take the private schools out of the equation and do we really need seven divisions in football and four in basketball, volleyball, baseball and football? Fewer divisions mean fewer opportunities at a time when people want more opportunities.
If the privates do stay with the OHSAA, there aren’t a lot of them — roughly 150 — but the disparity between Cincinnati St. Xavier and St. Peter’s or Cleveland St. Ignatius and Mansfield Christian is as stark as it can get. Split the private schools in two and either the middle class — Ready, Hartley, St. Vincent-St. Mary, DeSales, Hathaway Brown — have to play up or dominate the Gilead Christians of the smaller enrollments. Neither is appealing.
This doesn’t impact north central Ohio schools, but if there is a split, there will be no more state tournaments for field hockey, ice hockey and gymnastics. Again, fewer opportunities when more are wanted.
So to appease the malcontents and to stave off a potential separation vote, the OHSAA has been coming up with proposals that could help level the playing fields between private and public schools.
Its first try four years ago was a smart offering that came up with athletic counts for each team at every school based on factors like open enrollment, socioeconomics and tradition. It gave relief to poorer districts that can’t attract or lose students, while penalizing highly successful teams who can attract kids based on tradition.
Let’s face it, we all know of public school programs that have attracted kids from outside the district just like high profile Catholic powerhouses St. Vincent-St. Mary and Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph. The old saying is success breeds success, but it also attracts it.
The proposal failed in a close vote because many of the public schools chaffed at being put through the same wringer as their private counterparts. Public school tradition was great and shouldn’t be penalized. Private schools? That’s a different story.
The next proposal was such a watered down version of the first that it was pointless to enact. Many saw it as a Trojan horse. Once the OHSAA got it approved, the association would toughen up the factors to make it more punitive, and the schools didn’t trust them. At least that was the message sent by the vote.
A year ago, the schools were to vote on a public-private split, but that got pulled at the 11th hour. In its place was a different kind of formula that looked at where kids on specific teams come from.
It was more defense by the OHSAA. It also was a haphazard, thrown-together mess of a proposal. When tiny Mansfield Christian could have been Division II in soccer and Division III in other team sports, it’s easy to see the flaws of a plan that wasn’t well thought out.
Nevertheless, if just 10 schools vote a different way, it would have been the law in Ohio athletics.
Sensing an opening and fearing the move for separation, the OHSAA had its competitive balance committee of 27 administrators from around the state convene over the last year to tweak the previous proposal.
What they came up with was detailed in Saturday’s Telegraph-Forum, and it smooths out the rough edges of the last proposal.
It answers the questions many had about the factors and reworks the unfairness that schools like Mansfield Christian, Canton Central Catholic and Lima Central Catholic would have faced. It differentiated between the kids who have gone to a school since before seventh grade from the carpetbaggers. It also treats public and private schools equally when it comes to the factors of where kids come from.
The formula is complicated, but competitive balance is a complex issue. It adds a level of bureaucracy to administrators already drowning in state mandates. It puts pressure on schools to do their paperwork correctly and gives them concrete deadlines.
However, it’s a fair proposal and one Ohio’s principals should approve. More than 300 schools don’t like status quo, and a split is the nuclear option, so it’s a workable middle ground that deserves a try.
“I think it’s going to be very close again,” Mansfield Christian Superintendent Cy Smith said. “I think it’s going to be determined by some of these other public school principals who don’t have an opinion one way or another because they don’t see it affecting them. Are they going to be talked into it this time just to get it over with and off the table because they’re tired of dealing with it, or are they going to say, no, this isn’t good for us as a whole?”
Voting is Thursday through May 15. We’ll get that answer soon enough.