OHSAA accepts proposal; Public vs Private solution will be put to vote in May

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Public vs Private: It won’t go away…

A vote is coming – and change might be too. Thursday the OHSAA Board of Directors agreed to put a proposal created by its “Competitive Balance Committee” to a statewide vote in May. The proposal will affect the way teams are assigned for future state tournaments. Basically it’s the OHSAA’s latest attempt to resolve the “Public vs Private” debate that has raged for years.


A vote is coming – and change might be too. Thursday at its official meeting in Columbus, the OHSAA Board of Directors agreed to put a proposal created by the organization’s “Competitive Balance Committee” to a statewide vote in May. The proposal will affect the way teams are assigned for future state tournaments. Basically it’s the OHSAA’s latest attempt to resolve the “Public vs Private” debate that has raged for years.

Under the proposed new bylaw, schools will be classified based on an “athletic count” which will be formulated from several criteria, including: enrollment, school boundaries, socioeconomics and athletic tradition. Ohio currently divides teams and divisions based on enrollment only.

The committee developed the formula without ever seeing how it would affect any one particular school.

“No other state is using a formula quite like this, so if our membership approves it, Ohio will be a trendsetting state when it comes to addressing the public vs. non-public issue,” OHSAA Director of Information Services Tim Stried said. “We understand that some people will not be satisfied unless public and non-public schools are competing in separate tournaments, but the Competitive Balance Committee made it clear that separation was not something they believed was in the best interest for the state of Ohio. The committee also didn’t want to place a ‘multiplier’ on non-public schools, so those two items then led them to creating this three-part formula that would be applied to all schools if the membership accepts it.”

“The issue of competitive balance has been discussed for years not only in Ohio but also in other states,” OHSAA Commissioner Daniel B. Ross, Ph. D, said. “Ohio is unique in that our public schools have the option to approve open enrollment policies, but, at the same time, there’s no question that most non-public schools in the state have no geographical boundaries in which they can secure students and the result has been a disproportionate number of championships won by those schools.

“The meetings we have conducted with the Competitive Balance Committee have been both productive and professional, and I believe the proposal from the group is fair and equitable and we will see some leveling of the playing field.”

In addition to enrollment, the proposal includes three key ingredients: a school boundary factor (how students are obtained – non-public schools with no boundaries; non-public schools with limited boundaries; public schools with statewide open enrollment; public schools with adjacent open enrollment, and public schools with no open enrollment), a socioeconomic factor (the number of free lunch participants) and a tradition factor (state championship game appearances, state tournament appearances and regional finals appearances).

The school boundary and tradition factors could increase a school’s enrollment while the socioeconomic factor could decrease a school’s enrollment. The tradition factor is the only one of the three that would be implemented on a sport-by-sport basis.

“The tradition factor is not an attempt to punish schools for success,” Stried said. “It is there because the committee agreed that a successful program attracts kids. There is nothing wrong with that, but the committee felt it was important to take that specific factor into account.”

Once all three factors are applied to the enrollment count, each school
will have a sport-by-sport “athletic count” for purposes of tournament
division assignments.

“For example, if you look at a non-public school with no boundaries that has very few students on the free lunch program and that also has had much success in the state tournament during the last four years, that school’s ‘athletic count’ would be higher than its basic enrollment,” Stried said. “How much higher is something that the OHSAA and the committee would examine in great depth before the formula would become active.”

Before the proposal becomes active it must be voted upon and passed by all OHSAA membership schools. That vote will come in May during the organization’s annual referendum voting process (which is May 1-16).

If passed, the new regulation will take affect no later than the 2013-14 school year.

The Board’s current plan is to propose that athletic counts only be utilized in the sports of football, soccer and volleyball in the fall; basketball in the winter, and baseball and softball in the spring. Consideration will be given to add other sports in the future.

This is not the first time the OHSAA has looked into separating state championships.

Three years ago a similar committee was formed and it concluded that no changes needed to be made.

Twice in the OHSAA’s history the idea of splitting public and private schools into different tournaments has been voted upon. In 1978, the proposal was defeated 83.9 percent to 16.1 percent. In 1993 the proposal was defeated 66.8 percent to 33.2 percent.

The OHSAA Competitive Balance Committee was formed in January 2010 in response to concerns raised by a group of school administrators in northeast Ohio who conducted a study that showed that 43 percent (146 of 340) of the state championships in selected team sports between 1999 and 2010 have been won by non-public schools, even though non-public schools make up only 17 percent of the total membership of the OHSAA.  The OHSAA Competitive Balance Committee met numerous times throughout 2010 in an attempt to identify competitive balance factors and to propose changes that would bring the competitive inequities into balance. The Committee was comprised of 29 school administrators and coaches from across the state from public and non-public schools both large and small along with members of the OHSAA Board of Directors and administrative staff and representatives from both the state superintendents and state principals associations.

Although it is a bold step forward, there are still some questions that haven’t been resolved by the new proposal – the biggest being in Division I where the state’s largest public schools will still be at a disadvantage.

“The committee also understands that this formula does not solve a couple issues within Division I,” Stried said. “There is no larger division for the biggest schools to go to, so the OHSAA will continue to study those issues and vigorously seek a solution.”

Said Ross: “Competitive balance is a complex issue. The formula recommended by the committee is not as complex as it sounds, nor is it as complex as any of the viable alternatives and the unintended consequences of those alternatives.”

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