OHSAA reaches compromise on tournaments

The battle of private vs. public schools isn't over in Ohio but they will play together.

COLUMBUS – The fear of separate postseason tournaments for public and private high schools in Ohio is no more after the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced Friday the proposed May referendum on the issue has been removed and replaced with a new competitive balance proposal.


The announcement was made with the backdrop of the 91st annual boys' state basketball tournament going on at the Schottenstein Center on the campus of Ohio State University.


The new proposal places an addition to a school's Initial Enrollment Count (EMIS), which is the official enrollment schools turn into the Ohio Department of Education, based on whether or not players on a team's roster live within a school's district or designated attendance zone. The rules would be the same for public and non-public schools and applies separately to individual sports.


The proposal will be voted on from May 1-15 by the 829 member schools of OHSAA. A simple majority is needed for passage and, if passed, would take effect in the 2015-16 school year.


Previous competitive balance referendums in 2011 and 2012 were narrowly defeated. Those proposals included factors of school boundaries, socioeconomics and athletic tradition. This new proposal focuses squarely on the boundary component.


When the competitive balance referendum failed last year (by a 339-301 margin), the OHSAA tabled the issue. Proponents of the referendum, headed by Triway Local School District superintendent David Rice and Dalton Local School District superintendent Scott Beatty, both located in Wayne County, spearheaded a petition drive to separate state tournaments for public and private schools. They were able to amass more than 100 signatures on their petition, some from true believers in separating tournaments and others who simply wanted to pressure the OHSAA into dealing with the issue one way or another.


This new proposal was a collaborative compromise between the two sides.


The OHSAA Board of Directors met Friday morning to finalize the deal.


"I am a very strong believer that doing nothing is not an option," said OHSAA commissioner Dr. Dan Ross, who has publicly opposed separation of tournaments. "The option that we submitted and the Board approved this morning brings us back to the middle."


There was fear that if a separation of tournaments came about then non-public schools would simply leave the OHSAA and form their own association with their own rules.


Rice said he did not believe that separate tournaments would have been a good thing for the OHSAA but he didn't want to let the issue die. Rice was a member of committees that worked on the previous competitive balance proposals.


"I do believe in my heart of hearts that this is a better proposal than the separate tournaments proposal and I thank (the Board) for honoring my request to pull the separate tournament proposal," said Rice. "We never stopped looking at options even after we submitted the petition back in December. We were constantly talking with each other and trying to figure out something we felt would be in the best interest of the kids of Ohio and would be acceptable to a majority of the voters of this issue."


The proposal will affect the team sports of football, soccer and volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball and softball in the spring. There is the possibility that team wrestling, which had its first OHSAA-sanctioned state tournament this year, would be considered for inclusion in the future.


Division alignments for OHSAA sanctioned sports for boys and girls are currently determined solely on EMIS numbers, with multiple divisions in each sport. Football is adding a seventh division this coming school year for its largest Division I teams in an attempt to address some of the competitive balance issues among the big schools.


Under the new proposal, schools would have to submit team rosters by a designated date indicating a student's name, grade (9 through 12), and district school of residence. Every student on a given roster who lives outside of a school's attendance zone will be subject to a multiplier and added to the EMIS to increase the school's enrollment figure.


The multiplier will be applied on a sport-by-sport basis, dependent upon the number of tournament divisions in a sport. Currently a multiplier of two is being considered for football and five for sports with four or more divisions.


The entire debate over competitive balance has its roots in the fact that private schools are able to draw students from a larger geographical area than typical public school districts. However, 70 percent of the public school districts in Ohio, according to the OHSAA, allow open enrollment of students outside of their normal district boundaries.


Even in districts that have open enrollment – this includes larger city districts of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo. Columbus and Akron – there are historical attendance zones that will dictate final enrollment figures of all schools, public and non-public. Non-public schools will be subject to the public school attendance zone their buildings are located.


For instance, Cincinnati Moeller is located in the Sycamore City School District. Any athlete on a Moeller roster who does not live within the Sycamore district would be subject to the multiplier. Given that Moeller already plays Division I in all sports, the multiplier won't affect the Crusaders. For a school like Roger Bacon, located in the St. Bernard-Elmwood Place district, the affect will be much more pronounced.

Enrollment has fallen at the school over the years – it now plays in Division III for boys' and girls' basketball and Division IV for football – but because of the multiplier it is expected that Roger Bacon will be playing in larger divisions.

 

Rice said he has heard the greatest criticism from the Division I public schools.

 

"In their opinion, if Division II schools get multiplied and bumped up then their day just got more difficult," said Rice. "For the smaller Division I public schools it probably is going to make their lives more difficult but I don't have the answer for that. We try to look at the greater good for everybody but there is no perfect solution. This seemed to attack a large majority of the districts that we serve."


The OHSAA will hold information meetings at 14 sites throughout the state beginning April 9 in Newton Falls.


If the referendum passes, the OHSAA plans to test it in pilot programs for the next two years before full implementation takes place. Those pilot programs will allow time for tweaks to be suggested and made in the system.


"You're going to be held accountable for the young people that are on your roster, especially if they come from outside your resident district, plain and simple," said Beatty. "Everybody is held to the same standard. It's very simplistic and it makes a lot of sense."