OHSAA expansion OK, process can be questioned

Once the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced it wanted to expand the number of divisions in seven sports, it was never a question of if it was going to happen. It was going to happen.

The OHSAA’s Board of Directors made it official last week when it voted to increase the number of divisions in boys and girls basketball, baseball, and softball and girls volleyball to seven and to raise the number of divisions in boys and girls soccer to five.

Maybe the biggest question about this whole thing is why radically change a system that seemed to be working pretty well for most of the schools who participate in OHSAA tournaments in those sports.

OHSAA executive director Doug Ute described the expansion plan as “a member-driven initiative” meant to fix a large disparity in Division I, where the enrollment in the biggest schools was more than three times that of the smallest schools.

He seemed surprised or had practiced his surprised face, at the amount of pushback against the proposal during a meeting with northwest Ohio athletic directors two weeks before the board of directors voted. He said he had not heard any opposition to it at meetings in other parts of the state.

The OHSAA’s plan calls for 64 Division I schools for boys basketball and 64 Division II schools. Divisions III through VII would be close to equal size and have around 130 teams per division.

That might be needed in metro areas around Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Akron. But Northwest Ohio is in a unique situation with 20 Division I schools and more than twice that number of Division IV schools currently.

Starting next school year, by shrinking the size of Division I to 64 schools statewide, there will be only three Division I boys basketball schools in the Northwest District – Perrysburg, Toledo Whitmer, and Findlay.

Historically, every time the OHSAA had added divisions it has been a good thing for small schools in northwest and west central Ohio. And maybe this will be, too.

In the 1970-71 school year, the OHSAA expanded to three divisions from its traditional two-division set-up in most sports.

The next round of division expansions came in the 1987-88 school year when boys and girls basketball grew to four divisions. Three years after that, baseball added a fourth division.

The Midwest Athletic Conference, the diamond-studded gold standard of high school state championships, has won 153 team state championships since it was formed in the mid-1970s. Seventy-eight of those have been in girls sports which, of course, were not part of the OHSAA until the mid-70s.

MAC boys teams have won 75 team state championships when there have been three or four divisions. When there were only two divisions the nine schools currently in the MAC won two state championships in any sport in the five decades before the 1970s – Delphos St. John’s in boys basketball in 1949 and Versailles in baseball in 1965.

The Putnam County League had one state champion, Miller City’s 1950 boys basketball team, during the two-division era. Since the arrival of three divisions, it has produced two boys basketball state champions (Kalida 1981, Fort Jennings 2000) and three girls basketball state champions – Kalida in 1988, 1989, and 1997. It has had three baseball state champions – Leipsic in 1976 and Miller City in 1977 and 1984. Columbus Grove has won state championships in boys cross country (2023), boys track (2003), and in a non-PCL sport in football (2003).

The Shelby County League had no state champions before 1971. Since then it has had 29 state champions –seven in baseball, eight in girls basketball, five in boys basketball, four in boys cross country, four in volleyball and one in girls track.

The pushback and skepticism seems to be more about how the OHSAA handled the process than about the possible effects adding divisions will have.

Some schools feel there was not enough communication about why this change was needed. Some think it was rushed. Some think it should have been put to a statewide referendum, like the competitive balance issue and the overwhelmingly rejected name, image, and likeness for high school athletes proposal.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, the trust level in the OHSAA by its member schools has taken some hits in recent years. And some schools see how this was handled as a continuation of that.

Jim Naveau
Jim Naveau has covered local and high school sports for The Lima News since 1978 and Ohio State football since 1992. His OSU coverage appears in more than 30 newspapers. Naveau, a Miami University graduate, also worked at the Greenville Advocate and the Piqua Daily Call. He has seen every boys state basketball tournament since 1977. Reach him at [email protected] or 567-242-0414.