Competitive balance proposal could change athleticsWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | email@example.com
According to its mission statement, the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) prides itself on regulating and administering interscholastic athletic competition in a fair and equitable manner. With a new proposal, to be voted on in May, the Buckeye state’s prep sports governing body is trying to rebalance the competition.
On Jan. 13, OHSAA announced the introduction of the Competitive Balance Proposal, which is to be voted on by the state’s high school principals, that looks to restore equal footing to all athletic teams that participate in high school sports.
“There were a significant faction of our constituents who feel that we have a competitive balance issue within our state athletics programs,” said Dan Ross, commissioner of OHSAA since 2004.
The proposal calls for a new way of determining an athletic count based on four factors: enrollment, school boundary, socioeconomics and tradition. Each will be weighted to determine the new athletic count.
“Each factor tries to address the issues that were throwing the balance off in competition,” Ross said.
The athletic count will always start with the current enrollment in a school and then use the other three parts to come up with a new count. The school boundary factor takes into account from where the schools pull students and who they allow to enroll in classes.
The socioeconomic factor uses the percentage of students who participate in the free lunch program.
The tradition factor examines a school’s four year window in a given sport and determines how successful the program has been based upon the number of appearances made in regional finals, state championships, and state finals.
“I think our committee did a tremendous job with what they came up with, and I think this was the best solution to the current problem,” Ross said.
If the proposal passes, it would take effect in 2013.
Ross said the initial concern was raised in early 2010 after an independent survey found that more than 60 percent of superintendents, athletic directors and school administrators found there to be a problem with the parity of competition within high school sports. The survey was conducted by a group of superintendents from Northeast Ohio.
“When the survey came back with that high of a percentage in the affirmative, I was very surprised,” Ross said. “That told us that the problem needed to be looked into.”
Another study showed that 43 percent of state championships won in select team sports between 1999 and 2010 were won by nonpublic schools. Nonpublic schools make up just 17 percent of the total OHSAA membership base.
“We formed a committee made up of athletic directors, superintendents and school administrators from around the state to figure out the problem, and this was the best solution that has been brought forth,” Ross said.
Eric Frantz, managing editor of the high school sports website JJHuddle.com, said it seems as though this is more of a knee-jerk reaction to what is a cyclical issue.
“I think people saw the results from the state football playoffs this year, and there was this irrational reaction,” he said.
Frantz said just three years ago a similar committee was formed, and that group said there was not a competitive balance issue in state athletics.
“They said it wasn’t a problem then, and I am not sure how things have changed that much in a short amount of time.”
Coming to a decision
While not a part of the committee that generated the proposal, St. John’s Jesuit Athletic Director Brian Miller was heavily involved in the construction of the Competitive Balance Proposal.
“Dan Ross is good friends with my father-in-law, and he was looking for a connection with someone from a private school,” Miller said. “So I was asked to help out.”
Miller said Ross and OHSAA assembled a think tank to address the issue, and he said the process of coming up with a solution was a long and arduous one.
“Our goal was to find a solution to the problem that wasn’t going to make a drastic change for any school,” he said.
“There were many ideas that were thrown out there and considered by the group,” he said. “This recommendation was not come to hastily.”
Other potential solutions were lowering or raising the minimum enrollment for divisions and adding an extra division.
Miller said most of the other ideas had some drawbacks.
“Most of the suggestions had added cost and expenses for OHSAA, and that was something they did not want to do.”
Once the recommendation was made, OHSAA went to work ironing out the details of the proposal.
“This was really the best idea. The alternative is public school versus private schools, and this idea was equal to all schools, and it didn’t drastically change the system in place,” he said.
As expected, reaction is mixed among athletic directors in Toledo. Terry Reeves, athletic director at Bowsher High School, is a fan of the current proposal.
“Things aren’t balanced right now,” Reeves said. “It is heavily swayed towards private schools. We can only pull so many kids in right now from our district because of our boundary. The private schools can take kids from anywhere in the area.”
Reeves cited a few other advantages private schools have over public schools.
“They have private donors that can help with their teams. Plus their facilities are always state of the art,” he said. “We are very lucky with what we have here at Bowsher, but not all public schools are as lucky. That certainly attracts kids to go to a school versus another.”
Dick Cromwell, assistant athletic director at St. Francis, has seen this debate come up before.
“This has been raging ever since I came to St. Francis,” he said. Cromwell has been at St. Francis for roughly 27 years.
Cromwell said that St. Francis is very happy with the current format and that no proposal will ever be the perfect solution.
“There is never going to be a formula that will be fair to all parties involved, so we feel that there really is no need to change at this point,” he said.
Perhaps most critical of the proposal was Chad Rutkowski, Cardinal Stritch athletic director. Unlike its other private school counterparts, Cardinal Stritch competes at the lowest level in athletics. With an enrollment of 250 students in the high school on Pickle Road, Ritkowski said the proposal would “kill” Cardinal Stritch.
“We already have trouble competing at the lower levels in athletics,” he said. “There is no way we would be able to compete in a higher division.”
Rutkowski said he has already done the math for his school, and the Cardinals would compete in a higher division for most sports.
The Cardinals football program competes in Division VI. If the proposal were to pass, the school would be assigned to Division IV, where local high schools like Genoa compete.
The Comets were one of the most dominant teams in high school football this year, and Rutkowski said that it would not be fair to ask his team to compete with Genoa.
“Our best isn’t as good as Genoa’s worst right now, and I don’t think anyone would dispute that.”
Miller said that he feels for smaller schools like Cardinal Stritch.
“At St. John’s, this really isn’t going to affect us,” he said. “We are still going to be Division I no matter what. I certainly can see these small schools’ complaint.”
Rutkowski said with enrollment already hurting at Cardinal Stritch, losing athletic programs won’t help the cause.
“Kids don’t want to come to school and get beat in every game they play in,” he said. “Losing all the time isn’t fun for anybody.”
If the proposal passes, Frantz said some private schools have threatened to branch off from OHSAA and form their own state tournament.
“That’s a very real possibility,” he said. “Some of these schools feel as though they are being singled out for winning, and they could elect to start their own tournament.”
Rutkowski said he would be in favor of splitting from OHSAA and having a separate state tournament.
“The multiplier format that is proposed is one of the worst ideas, and I think a separate tournament would be much better.”
St. John’s Miller was opposed to a separate tournament.
“I think we have a great relationship between public and private institutions locally and at the state level as well. I would hate to see that end.”
St. Francis’ Cromwell said all avenues should be explored, but would not be for a separation between public and private schools on the athletic fields.
“All solutions should be looked at, but we are happy with the way things are so I wouldn’t change it,” he said.
Cromwell said there is still much to be determined before the May vote.
“There’s still a lot of feeling about that needs to be done,” he said. “May is still a ways off.”
That didn’t stop him from voicing a decision: “We would vote no today.”
Rutkowski said Cardinal Stritch would vote down the proposal as well.
“I have already talked to the principal and I have advised to vote against the proposal.”
Bowsher’s Reeves said he would endorse voting for the proposal.
“There could definitely be some tweaking here and there, but overall I think this is a fair solution to the problem.”
Frantz said no matter what the outcome of the vote, the public versus private debate will rage on.
“This is an issue that has been hotly debated forever, and even if this passes, someone will still think more should be done to level the playing field for all teams,” he said.
Tags: Bowsher High School, Brian Miller, Cardinal Stritch, Chad Rutkowski, Dan Ross, Dick Cromwell, Eric Frantz, JJ Huddle, Ohio High School Athletic Association, St. Francis, St. John's Jesuit, Terry Reeves