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The Suburbanite
  • OHSAA looks to level the playing field

  • With a referendum to separate public and nonpublic schools in the postseason cast aside, the OHSAA now focuses all of its energies on a new proposal to better balance things out for high school athletes in Ohio.

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  • As he sat in the bleachers at Triway High School, Dave Rice looked at his high school’s volleyball team. He knew where every one of his team’s players lived, where they went to elementary school. They were Triway kids and the superintendent took pride in that.
    By the time the match started, Ohio High School Athletic Association Commissioner Dan Ross popped in to watch. Ross was in town on a speaking engagement. He normally stops to watch an OHSAA-sanctioned sporting event in different parts of the state while he’s there.
    Ross saw Rice sitting in the stands and took a seat next to him. Triway was playing Parma Padua in a 2011 volleyball tournament game.
    “As the game was going on, Dave looked at me and asked, ‘Dan, do you have any idea where their kids are from?’ ” Ross said.
    The commissioner’s response?
    “No, we don’t keep track of that,” Ross said. “We don’t have access to that information.”
    That may change soon.
    If a solution to Ohio’s competitive balance issue is found this May when principals across Ohio cast a vote to “level the playing field,” it was born that night at a high school volleyball game.
    “That was a piece with Dave that was brewing way back when,” Ross said.
    Rice and other superintendents have been working on a competitive balance proposal for years. After the OHSAA had two referendum votes fail in as many years, the Wayne County group led by Rice initially made a move to have separate state tournaments for public and nonpublic schools.
    After many meetings and talks between Rice’s group, Ross and others from the OHSAA, the separation proposal was pulled last month and replaced with what’s currently on the ballot.
    Rice said where schools get players from has always been a piece he believes needed to be addressed. He didn’t know exactly how it would get there.
    “In my mind, the heart of the issue is where schools can draw their kids from,” Rice said. “Obviously, the larger the area, the greater likelihood of getting better athletes.”
    It should be noted that Rice and Scott Beatty, the superintendent of Dalton Schools, were on the competitive balance committee because Ross wanted the Wayne County superintendents to be represented. Rice and Ross agree they have a good relationship.
    While Rice may not have agreed with previous referendum competitive balance proposals, he was on the committee that helped to create the measures.
    “We determined from the start we were going to work with the OHSAA and not against them,” Rice said. “There probably is no solution that is perfect, or one everyone is happy with.”
    Page 2 of 5 - 11TH-HOUR AGREEMENT
    Principals across Ohio will vote between May 1-15 on the referendum proposal. It is a vote that Ross calls one of the most significant in the last 30 or 40 years. However, getting to this proposal has been a process that has delivered a message to the OHSAA: Most agree something needs to be done to address competitive balance; most disagree with the last two proposals to do so.
    As the leader of Ohio’s authority to organize and legislate high school athletics, Ross said he worried a proposal to hold separate public and nonpublic tournament would pass. It was, in his mind, close enough he didn’t want to gamble on the chance.
    “I most certainly did not want to take the chance,” Ross said during an exclusive interview at OHSAA offices. “When you look at the ramifications of separation we believe would have happened, I don’t think it’s good for kids’ opportunities and that’s what we should be all about.”
    In the 11th hour, an agreement was made to pull separation for an alternative that Ross and Rice believe will address competitive balance.
    “After we turned in the petition for separate tournaments, we never stopped looking at different options,” Rice said. “We never started out with this thing to have separate tournaments. That was a result of after two referendums failed.”
    After the second failed attempt, Ross said he was not bringing the competitive balance committee back together. Rice and the Wayne County superintendents gathered more than the needed 75 signatures to place separating tournaments as a referendum vote.
    “Doing something was better than doing nothing,” Rice said.
    agreeable solution?
    Ross sees separation of the tournaments and doing nothing as polar extremes of the issue. In the middle, he hopes there is an agreeable solution a majority of schools endorse.
    “If it doesn’t pass this time, it puts us another year back from addressing this,” Ross said. “It is an issue across the country that (state associations) are trying to address.”
    The current proposal would do two things that could help public schools become more competitive — in theory — against their nonpublic counterparts. The first is to define a nonpublic school’s enrollment boundaries.
    If enough principals vote for the change, a nonpublic high school’s boundary would be the same as the public school where the nonpublic school is located. All student-athletes who come from outside the boundary to play sports at either a public or nonpublic school would then be multiplied by a sports specific factor to count as additional enrollment.
    “I’ll use Brookhaven and DeSales in Columbus as examples,” Ross said. “They sit across the street from one another. DeSales is in the Brookhaven attendance area. If Brookhaven gets kids from outside the attendance area, it’s (added attendance). If DeSales gets them from outside them same attendance area, located across the street, why shouldn’t it be an add, too? It’s the fairest thing for both schools.”
    Page 3 of 5 - In Stark County, Central Catholic’s boundary would be Perry Local Schools. Any student-athlete that goes to Central that is from outside Perry Local would increase Central’s enrollment.
    The sports specific factor has not been agreed upon. Ross will reconvene the competitive balance committee to address that if the referendum passes. Right how, however, Rice believes a multiplier of two is fair in football and five in basketball. Ross sees merit in both.
    Does the proposal, though, address the issue or does it make it more likely for a nonpublic school that draws its student-athletes from an urban district more likely to vote for it?
    CENTRAL LIKELY TO MOVE UP
    Central Catholic football coach and athletics director Lowell Klinefelter believes the referendum could bump the Crusaders from a Division IV football program to a Division II program, and its basketball program from Division III to the low end of Division I.
    Last fall, for example, Klinefelter said he had 60 players on his roster. Only three came from Perry Local Schools. If two is the factor in football — as has been discussed — Central would add 114 to its enrollment for football classification.
    Central Catholic gets 86 percent of its students from its Catholic feeder schools located mostly in Western Stark County.
    “Overwhelmingly the biggest school district we get kids from is Jackson,” Klinefelter said. “It will impact us and from what I’ve been told, this is going to pass. I’d like to see them address where they’re getting their kids from. If we get 86 percent of our students from our feeder schools, then give us the multiplier on the 14 percent coming from elsewhere. That’s fine. Those (86 percent) are kids that have been in Catholic schools for eight years. Why are we punished for kids that are in our own feeder schools?
    “I’m hoping there will be some other way of looking at this.”
    When the OHSAA expands to seven divisions this fall, using the latest enrollment figures available, Central Catholic was supposed to go from Division IV to Division V with its male enrollment of 184. However, using that same enrollment data, which won’t be updated until this summer, and last year’s football roster, Central would have an adjusted enrollment of 298. That puts Central at near the bottom of the new Division III with Louisville, Alliance, Marlington, Canton South and Carrollton.
    Some nonpublic schools get a fair amount of their student-athletes from the city district the building is located. In Akron, for example, there are seven public high schools, each with a neighborhood boundary. St. Vincent-St. Mary sits within Akron North High’s boundary and it would have an added factor for each student-athlete its gets from outside that boundary.
    “We’re not going to complain,” Klinefelter said. “We’re going to field a football team whatever the people in Columbus or Wayne County decide. Not many people have the opportunity to win a state championship. We’re still going to teach our kids about sportsmanship and field a team.
    Page 4 of 5 - “In the years we won a state title, or had a chance to, we would have done so in our division or playing up. We would not like to be punished for kids in our own feeder system attending school here. We think that’s a disgrace.”
    There is a provision in the proposal, however, to waive the adjusted enrollment count for any team that can show it has failed to reach a level of competitiveness in that sport. That criteria — regular season or tournament success — is yet to be established, but will be determined by the competitive balance committee during the next two years.
    DATABASE OF EVERY ATHLETE
    The referendum would create a database for all schools to submit team rosters and each players’ name and whether he or she is an in-district or outside-district student athlete would be indicated. The public, as well as media, would have access to the rosters.
    “All of it will be online,” Ross said. “It will have boxes to check for if the student-athlete is in-district or out-of-district. If a kid is pulling out of the driveway and he lives next to you and going to another school across the county, I’m (the OHSAA) going to get a phone call about that.”
    Many nonpublic schools are not accustomed to thinking in terms of attendance areas. The referendum vote will do nothing to address the large nonpublic schools such as St. Ignatius in Cleveland or St. Xavier in Cincinnati.
    “There’s no place to put them,” Ross said.
    However, the OHSAA changed its bylaws and added a seventh division in football. That move will help even out the discrepancies between the smallest and largest Division I schools. This referendum vote is designed to address the rest of the divisions.
    “If you’re in the upper end of Division II and the bottom of Division I, this with the seven divisions helps a lot,” Ross said. “The upper end of Division I? There’s never anything we can do about that.”
    SETTING THE PACE
    Ohio could set the pace for other state associations to address competitive balance. There has not been any one answer that fixes it. Some state athletic associations have done nothing. Others have tried. Indiana has adopted the tradition factor from Ohio’s failed referendum vote in 2011.
    “We believe this is the first time ever that a proposal defines nonpublic school boundaries in that way,” Rice said. “I think state associations will take a look at it, especially if it is given some implementation time to see what impact it has.”
    If the proposal passes, the competitive balance committee’s work is not done. It will take two years to phase in.
    Page 5 of 5 - Ross would like to have a pilot program of about 300 schools next year to see how it impacts those. If changes need to be made within the passed framework, Ross said it would be adjusted. In other words, even if approved, the measure could still be a work in progress. Ross, however, is hoping members schools pass the proposal so the state isn’t yet another year away from addressing competitive balance.
    “Hopefully enough people take a look at it and trust the competitive balance committee and the OHSAA to work together and let’s see if this pans out,” Rice said. “If not, let’s change it. This keeps public and private schools together. There’s a group that says to be the best, you have to beat the best. This satisfies that group.”
    Coming next Sunday: OHSAA Commissioner Dan Ross said he feared a proposal to separate the tournaments between public and nonpublic schools would pass. There would have been unintended consequences of such a move, some no one planned. Ross will address some of those unintended consequences and what athletics in the state of Ohio might have looked like, including which sports the OHSAA would not have sponsored state tournaments for and no longer sanctioned.
    Reach Todd at 330-580-8340 or
    todd.porter@cantonrep.com
    On Twitter: @tporterREP