The Suburbanite
  • OHSAA separation would have cut sports

  • Separation of state high schol tournaments would have eliminated at least three OHSAA sports, and had other consequences.

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  • As much as Dan Ross wanted to believe separating state tournaments in Ohio was an extreme, far-fetched idea, he never got there. The more people he talked to, the more the Ohio High School Athletic Association commissioner started to think it may pass and, in the process, alter the landscape of high school athletics in Ohio forever.
    Then Ross and his staff at the OHSAA started to look at what the state of high school athletics would be here in Ohio. The picture was real and there would have been unintended consequences of such a move.
    “I don’t think anybody, when they would do a referendum piece to separate tournaments, would ever think they want this to be a bad situation for anyone,” Ross said. “I don’t think that was ever intended.”
    A group of superintendents from Wayne County, led by Triway Superintendent Dave Rice, came up with the idea of separating tournaments between public and nonpublic schools after two OHSAA-initiatives to address competitive balance failed. Ross announced last spring he would not reconvene the competitive balance committee, and, instead, opened the door for a member-school referendum.
    The Wayne County group gathered enough signatures around the state to put the separate tournament idea to a vote.
    That’s when Ross really started to hold conversations with stakeholders around the state.
    Even if the separation referendum failed, but the margin was close, it could have come back before member schools for another vote in 2014.
    “If it would have been as close as the previous two referendum votes, sometimes that’s incentive to say, ‘We only need a few more votes and it can
    pass,’ ” Ross said. “After meeting with a lot of people across Ohio, I was greatly surprised by the amount of people — even in areas that didn’t have a high number of nonpublic schools — that were going to vote for separation because when they get to the regionals, or outside that, their teams are running into nonpublic schools that garner kids from their area.
    “I think it would have been very close.”
    The first thing Ross did was look at the petition that was signed by 120 administrators from school districts all over Ohio. He surmised through conversations that 50 of those were very passionate in their belief that separation was the only true model to competitive balance.
    “Another 65-70 were very frustrated because we had two proposals the past two years that didn’t pass and were very, very close,” Ross said. “And there wasn’t another option on the ballot at that point. … I believe they thought signing the petition to separate was better than doing nothing.”
    Even some of the Wayne County superintendents didn’t think separation was the way to go.
    Page 2 of 3 - “I don’t believe separation would have passed,” Rice said. “We never said it was the perfect solution.”
    Separation was the extreme alternative already talked about, and it was, at least, an option to try to be proactive.
    “It’s an emotional issue,” said Ross, who worked as a public and nonpublic school administrator before heading up the OHSAA. “I had a gentleman from a public school look me in the eye and say, ‘Dan, I know you’re not for this, but I don’t care if we have more teams in our division. I don’t want to play against schools that take kids from five, six, seven counties. … At least we’re playing teams that are like us.’ ”
    What no one realized was the unintended consequences.
    Ross got to work looking at those.
    The first three consequences off the top would have meant the likely elimination of hockey, gymnastics and field hockey as OHSAA-sanctioned sports. There simply would not have been enough nonpublic schools with those sports to hold a separate tournament.
    “We weren’t going to have a state tournament for those schools,” Ross said. “And if we’re not going to have one for the nonpublic schools, we’re not going to discriminate and have one for the public schools. So those three sports are gone.”
    And there would have been others had the separation referendum not been replaced by what high school principals will vote on May 1-15. The latest proposal puts nonpublic high schools in attendance zones that essentially are the same as the public school district in which the school rests. Then athletic teams can receive added enrollment numbers based upon a sports-specific factor yet to be determined.
    Another consequence of separation would have meant that statistically, it would be easier for nonpublic schools to qualify for the state football tournament.
    “In basketball, we have 800-plus public schools,” Ross said. “We may have 150 nonpublic schools playing basketball. How many divisions do you have in basketball? Currently, there are four. If I say we are going to have three public divisions and those three divisions end up being about 225 schools each, and the nonpublics end up being 75-100 (enrollment) less than the public divisions. Then the nonpublics will have (Canton) Central Catholic playing Moeller in the same division.
    “In football, you can’t put Fostoria St. Wendelin (male enrollment of 55) in with St. Ignatius (male enrollment 1,121). Even if you went to two nonpublic divisions, the discrepancies would be too high, and it’s a safety issue in football, too. Then you’d have 32 of 36 nonpublic schools making the playoffs. Public schools are going to say, ‘Wait a minute, 25 percent of our schools get in the playoffs and 90 percent of the nonpublics get in? I want to be in the nonpublic division.’ ”
    Page 3 of 3 - Separation could have led to nonpublic schools leaving the OHSAA and forming their own independent association. It happened in Texas, and backfired as well.
    Houston Jesuit High School and Dallas Jesuit were members of the independent association and were removed. They joined the public school association.
    Guess which two teams played for the state title in soccer in the public school tournament? Houston Jesuit and Dallas Jesuit.
    “It’s an issue across the country,” Ross said.
    During the 2011-12 school year, the latest year for which the OHSAA has data, 45 schools had field hockey teams, 86 offered ice hockey and 164 schools offered gymnastics. Those sports, in total, had 3,950 participants.
    In Ross’ mind, that means nearly 4,000 student-athletes in Ohio would have been affected by at least one less athletic opportunity. That was unacceptable in his mind.
    “There were going to be sports that would not operate in Ohio as we know them, if at all,” Ross said. “In doing that, you’re taking away opportunities from kids. That’s what we should be all about. Separation would have eliminated some of those opportunities.”
    In ice hockey, 26 of the 86 schools were nonpublic in 2011-12. There would not have been enough teams to offer separate state tournaments. However, five of the last seven state champions have been nonpublic schools, a figure that supports the competitive balance argument.
    In field hockey, 14 of the 45 schools were nonpublic and gymnastics had just 18 of 164 schools as nonpublic.
    “Separation would have changed the landscape of how we do our business, not only how the OHSAA does business, but how we operate with athletics in the state.” Ross said. “As time went on, more people were realizing they didn’t think about some of these things.”
    Now administrators across the state have a decision to make. If the referendum passes, there will be a two-year period of phasing in the new rules. If it fails, Ohio is another year behind in finding a solution.
    “If this referendum is to fail, we can always come back to the separation idea,” Rice said. “And if that fails, then you resign yourself to the fact that the majority of people don’t want any change.”

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