On Thursday, the results of the competitive balance proposal being voted on from May 1-15 by high schools across Ohio will be announced by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Depending on the results, high school sports in Ohio will enter a new, not-yet clearly defined era or the schools will be left wondering what’s next and what they might be voting for or against in the future.
This is the third consecutive year Ohio high schools have given thumbs up or thumbs down to competitive balance proposals, designed to address what supporters see as a remedy for private schools winning state championships at a pace that exceeds public schools.
In 2012 and 2011, competitive balance proposals, which included a school boundary factor, a tradition factor and a socio-economic factor, were voted down by close margins.
When those efforts failed, a group led by several Wayne County superintendents successfully petitioned to put a proposal dividing public and private schools into separate tournaments to a vote of the OHSAA’s member schools this year.
That was headed for the ballot in May until the backers of separate tournaments agreed in March during the boys state basketball tournament to replace it with a less complicated OHSAA competitive balance plan, which concentrated on school district boundaries and dropped the tradition and socio-economic factors.
The proposal would apply to public schools and private schools. A multiplier would be used for any open enrollment athletes for public schools and the multiplier would be used for any private school students who came from outside the public school district in which that non-public school is located.
If approved, the plan would go into effect in 2015 and would be used for football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball.
Under the plan, “outside” athletes would count as two players in football because of its large rosters and five in the other sports.
Separate tournaments would have been a nightmare and a financial disaster for the OHSAA.
If that proposal had passed, legal warfare in the courts would have been the inevitable first result.
Down the road, private schools — which make up around 17 percent of the OHSAA’s schools — might have broken away to form their own association. Or the OHSAA would have been saddled with the financial burden of running separate tournaments, neither of them as big or as profitable as what exists now.
OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross calls this the best of the three competitive balance proposals and is pushing hard for its passage to deflate the talk of separate tournaments.
“Is it perfect? No. Is it better than separation? Absolutely,” Ross said.
“Truthfully, I don’t believe doing nothing is going to be an option. Separation of the tournaments is not a good option. We’ve been trying to bring the two sides together to the middle.
“There are a lot of schools, a lot of people, who very strongly believe the best thing to do is separate. I don’t believe that and I don’t believe a majority of our schools do. We’re going to find out very shortly,” he said.
At the press conference announcing the substitution of the latest competitive balance proposal, Wooster Triway superintendent Dave Rice said he didn’t think separate tournaments would have won if it had come to a vote.
Two-tournaments proposals were voted down by large margins in 1978 and 1993, but advocates of separation have grown in number as private schools have won nearly 40 percent of state championships in recent years, even though they are only around 17 percent of Ohio’s high schools.
So, has the OHSAA found something that will be approved or is this effort going down to defeat like the last two competitive balance efforts?
It depends who you talk to.
Dalton superintendent Scott Beatty, among the administrators who were seeking a vote on separate tournaments, thinks it will be approved.
Allen East superintendent Mike Richards, a former OHSAA Board of Directors member who was not involved in formulating the latest competitive balance plan, said it has “a reasonable chance” of passing.
“I don’t know why it wouldn’t pass when you look at the alternative,” he said. “We (Allen East) are in favor of it. It’s better than separate tournaments. But I don’t know anybody who is really gung-ho about it.”
Temple Christian athletic director Bruce Bowman sees a “razor thin” margin whatever the outcome.
“I think it is going to be pretty close. I think it definitely has a shot to pass but my ear is probably not as close to the ground as some others are,” he said. “We understand there is going to be a resolution at some point. The issue is not going to go away. It’s hard to come up with a perfect solution.”
Bath athletic director Rich Dackin said, “I don’t think it will pass. I think there are some question marks about how the procedure is going to work. It’s going to scare a lot of schools that you’ll be a month into the season and you won’t know what division you’ll be in.”
Elida athletic director Dave Evans said, “I don’t know. I know there are a lot of people who want to see something done and it might be a starting point. But I really question whether it will pass this time.”
Much of the uncertainty is because some schools feel the proposal is short on specifics and that the OHSAA is asking them to take a leap of faith that it will fill in the details later.
One of the foundations of the proposal is that each school will submit rosters to the OHSAA for all sports included, and then, using enrollment numbers provided by the Ohio Department of Education, the OHSAA will apply the multiplier and determine which division a school will be assigned to for tournament games.
But when the OHSAA released the enrollment numbers for the 2013-14 school year, close to half of them appeared to be wildly inaccurate. Some schools looked at that and said if this is a mess, if the OHSAA didn’t even notice such obvious discrepancies, how can we trust the rest of the proposal?
In the Western Buckeye League, Elida’s 2013-14 numbers showed a supposed increase of 220 students in the top three grades from last year. Bath was up 205 students. Shawnee gained 162 students, Wapakoneta 155 and Kenton 97.
The numbers were questionable for several schools in the Northwest Conference, too.
The ODE numbers showed Bluffton with an increase of 122 students in the top three grades, a gain of 46 percent in one year. Paulding was up 44 percent, Delphos Jefferson was up 29 percent and Allen East gained 28 percent.
“We were baffled as to how they could come up with that many,” Dackin said about the new enrollment totals. “They basically blamed the Ohio Department of Education and said we’re supposed to appeal.”
Evans said, “Obviously, there was concern that if they were struggling to get those numbers correct, what is it going to be like when they are using those numbers and then adding on the five for open enrollment students or whatever, depending on the sport.
“One of the local athletic directors said, ‘Wouldn’t it have been nice to run these numbers, not use them, but run them for a couple years and see how it worked out, then put it up for a vote instead of getting it voted in and then seeing how it’s going to work out for sure?’”
The OHSAA sent a memo from Ross to the schools earlier this month saying the Ohio Department of Education reported, “they were unable to replicate the way the data was put together in the past, and had to resort to different methods than traditionally used to provide data to the OHSAA.”
The OHSAA then advised schools to appeal if they felt their numbers were incorrect.
Some schools also question the proposal because it has no effect on the biggest Division I schools or because they see it as possibly moving private school powerhouses up into their divisions.
If passed, the proposal would have little effect on two of the area’s three private high schools.
Delphos St. John’s is in the Delphos Jefferson school district and gets most of its students from that district.
Temple Christian’s “home” district would be Elida and while it draws heavily from Lima city, Bath and other districts, its numbers are so small it probably would not need to worry about being moved up a division. It has 25 boys and 33 girls in the top three grades.
For Lima Central Catholic, its location could cause a problem — a problem the OHSAA says it’s not going to address.
LCC is in the Shawnee school district, where around 20 percent of its students reside. The three Catholic elementary schools in town are located in the city of Lima. If LCC were on the east side of Cable Road instead of the west side, it would be in the Lima City Schools district.
“Every kid from our three elementary schools who lives in the city of Lima is considered an outsider. How can we vote for that? I want to vote for it but they’re making it tough,” LCC athletic director Ron Williams said.
“We want to be able to support this. We want to see the OHSAA doing what they can to fix these things. But I’m afraid this one is not it.”
Ross’ answer to a question about this was, “Right now, it’s the geographic area. I don’t think there is any way you’re going to be able to put a system in place where everybody is going to be able to look at the geographics and make it work.
“It’s probably a good start and it’s a journey that we’re probably going to be on,” he said.