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OHSAA formula aims for fairness, competitiveness

Steve Junga • Dec 20, 2016 at 3:30 PM

The Ohio High School Athletic Association was faced with a dilemma five years ago. How can it legitimately make the playing field level for tournament play among its member schools?

The state’s governing body for prep sports saw the urgency to address the Public School vs. Private School debate. There was a push to separate the publics and privates into their classifications for state tournaments. An alternative plan — which ultimately won out — was a competitive balance formula which would keep the entire membership together and, hopefully, add fairness to the competition.

Since the 2000 football season, 55 of the 106 total divisional state championships (.519 percentage) have been won by private schools, which make up only 15 percent (124) of the OHSAA’s 821 total member schools.

With the 2016 football finals serving as one last reminder of why Ohio’s public schools pushed for change, the new competitive balance system is ready to launch a trial run for the enrollment verification process which will be used.

“Competitive balance is on track to begin in the fall of 2017,” said Tim Stried of the OHSAA. “All member schools successfully entered their soccer, volleyball, and football roster data this fall, which will be added to the enrollment counts for the fall of 2017, as planned.”

The OHSAA’s competitive balance system will be utilized for football and seven other sports — volleyball and boys and girls soccer in the fall season, boys and girls basketball in the winter, and baseball and softball in the spring.

All but softball have shown — based on the number of state championships won — evidence what the public-school contingent believes is a disproportionate advantage favoring private schools.

Since 2000, private schools have won only four of the 67 state softball championships (.059). But they have won 42 of 68 (.618) in volleyball, 32 of 51 (.627) in boys soccer, 24 of 40 (.600) in girls soccer, 25 of 68 (.368) in boys basketball, 29 of 68 (.426) in girls basketball, and 30 of 68 (.441) in baseball.

These are the types of numbers that created the push for change in Ohio’s high school tournament system.

Judging by the results of the Ohio high school football state championship games held Dec. 1-3 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, the finals were among the most competitive in the 45-year history of the state playoffs.

Five of the seven title games were decided by seven points or less, with the Division I final needing two overtimes before Cincinnati St. Xavier outlasted Cleveland St. Ignatius 27-20.

In addition to the title won by St. Xavier over St. Ignatius (both private Catholic schools), championships in five of the other six divisions (II, III, IV, V and VII) were also won by private Catholic school teams — Cincinnati LaSalle, Akron Hoban, Columbus Hartley, Canton Central Catholic and Warren John F. Kennedy, respectively.

The only state football title won by a public school was Marion Local in Division VI.

Back to competitive balance, finding a system the public school contingent would accept was not easy. The format approved by the OHSAA membership in May, 2014, was the third version taken to a vote.

“Ohio’s competitive balance is a good reaction compared to the people who want to talk about separation,” said 17-year Central Catholic football coach Greg Dempsey, whose Irish teams have won three state championships. “It’s good that the OHSAA wants to try to find compromise, and try something new, to see if it improves our playoff system.

“We have one of the best playoff systems anywhere for high school football, and you’d hate to see that go away with separate public and private playoff systems. This is a great move.”

The competitive balance system is designed to increase the official enrollment numbers — for all member schools — for any participating athletes who do not reside within the school’s defined geographic district.

“I’ll admit my bias, but I certainly think this has been a long time coming and long overdue,” said Anthony Wayne athletic director John Snyder. “When you’re a public school and you’re not open enrollment like us, you make do with the tools you have.”

Anthony Wayne won three Division II playoff games this season before falling to LaSalle, winner of three straight titles, in the state semifinals.

“If you run into a team like LaSalle, and their team is recruited, it’s tough to keep up,” Snyder said. “It’ clearly not fair, and it’s tough on your kids, your coaches, and your school.

“You say, ‘Go out there and compete and give it your all,’ and we do. But you know there’s a glaring advantage on the other side of the field.”

Since public schools make up 85 percent of the OHSAA’s membership, the conventional wisdom was that, if left to a straight vote of the full membership, a separation of public and private schools in tournaments would’ve been inevitable. Many public school administrators believed, with good reason, that their school teams have been playing at a competitive disadvantage for decades.

“The whole concept is to make sure everybody’s on the same footing,” said St. John’s Jesuit athletic director Bob Ronai. “This was to prevent the separation of private and public. I don’t think that would be good for anybody.

“Everybody wants to be able to compete at the highest level. If you separate, you’re going to diminish the strength at both ends. For the states which have done that, it has weakened their state tournaments. That is the biggest positive here — keeping everybody in one state association.”

Where most public schools generally compete with athletes who nearly all reside within their defined geographic districts, private schools utilize athletes who enroll from multiple districts.

The competitive balance format is designed to account for that public-versus-private district aspect by adding to a private school’s enrollment count for every student-athlete attending its school from outside of newly-assigned districts for these private schools.

For instance, since Toledo’s Central Catholic High School is geographically located within the public-school district of nearby Scott High School, Central would use the same geographic district as Scott.

Any student-athletes who attend Central and reside outside of the Scott district, would add to the enrollment count for Central.

When these counts of non-district student-athletes are added to the private school’s programs on a sport-by-sport basis, the hope of the public school faction is that many of these private school teams will be elevated to higher divisional classifications in those sports.

With those private schools being moved up, some public school teams will, in turn, be dropped to lower divisional classifications for tournament play.

Public schools will not be immune from the impact of competitive balance. Those public schools that allow open enrollment (accepting students from outside their defined geographic districts), will have to increase their enrollment counts to adjust for any out-of-district students who participate in a given sport.

But, this impact will not be as extreme as that felt by the private schools.

“We’re an open enrollment school, but we only had one player who was Tier-2 [out of district] for football,” said 35-year Eastwood football coach Jerry Rutherford. “I think you’ll have to wait and see when those numbers come out for the first time. See what it does change. Will it make much of a difference? I have no idea.

“I suppose it’s better, but until we go through a season and see that it does make a difference, how do you know? You still have to be a pretty good team to win, no matter what division you’re in or who you play.”

Since the largest Division I private Catholic schools, such as St. Xavier and St. Ignatius, cannot be bumped up to a higher division, the only real positive impact for public school teams in football will be those teams which are dropped down to Division II after private-school teams are elevated from D-II to D-I.

The greater impact would occur in the lower six divisions for football, the lower three divisions for volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball, and the lower two divisions for soccer.

These are the only sports to be included in the competitive balance system by the OHSAA, at least initially. Other sports might be added at a later time.

How will the playing fields be made more level?

In a hypothetical example, if a private Catholic school has an official boys enrollment of 320, that school would currently be placed in Division III (257 to 360 boys) for football.

If that school’s football program had 120 total players participating (grades 9-12), and 80 of those 120 resided outside of the school’s geographic district, the school’s official enrollment count will be adjusted accordingly.

Most out-of-district players would be considered Tier-2 under the new OHSAA system, and thus come with a multiplier of 2. Eighty Tier-2 players multiplied by 2 would equal 160. That 160, added to the official enrollment count of 320, would adjust that school’s competitive balance count to 480.

That adjustment would elevate that team from Division III to Division II (361 to 580 boys).

It is possible LaSalle, Hoban, Hartley, and Canton CC will move up a division in postseason play if they qualify for the 2017 football playoffs.

As for local schools, St. John’s Jesuit and will likely move from D-II to D-I in football, St. Francis de Sales might also move from D-II to D-I, and Central Catholic could move from D-III to D-II.

“I don’t think we’re going to like moving up,” Ronia said, “but, to be honest, there’s going to be some [open enrollment] public schools moving up, and they’re not going to like it either.”

Competitive balance adjustments will be made each year for each sport included, and the divisions will no longer be locked in a two-year cycle.

“We’re definitely going to be impacted and move up in our enrollment number,” Dempsey said. “It’s just hard to see where you’re going to land. This is going to impact many Catholic schools and also out-of-district [open enrollment] schools. You don’t know where the shuffling is going to end. That’s the great unknown about the system with moving people up and sliding people down.”

In sports that require fewer players to compose varsity, junior varsity, and freshman teams — volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, and soccer — the multiplier used for Tier-2 athletes is greater. The soccer multiplier is 6, and for the other sports it is 5.

* * *

OHIO CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS

(Won by private schools, all divisions, 2000-2016)

Football: 55 of 106 (.519)

Boys Basketball: 25 of 68 (.368)

Girls Basketball: 29 of 68 (.426)

Volleyball: 42 of 68 (.618)

Baseball: 30 of 68 (.441)

Softball: 4 of 67 (.059)

Boys Soccer: 32 of 51 (.627)

Girls Soccer: 24 of 40 (.600)

Overall totals: 241 of 536 (.449)

¦ These are the sports that will impacted by OHSAA’s new Competitive Balance system, to begin in 2017-18 school year.

2016-17 Private school enrollments in Ohio (boys)

Football divisions

(from 2015 and 2016 seasons)

DIVISION I (581 or more boys)

Cincinnati St. Xavier 1217; Cleveland St. Ignatius 1170; Lakewood St. Edward 721; Cincinnati Moeller 672; Cincinnati Elder 671

DIVISION II (361 to 580)

Toledo St. John’s 572; Cincinnati LaSalle 522; Columbus St. Charles 477; Toledo St. Francis 442; Walsh Jesuit 423

DIVISION III (257 to 360)

Akron Hoban 345; Cleveland Benedictine 336; Mentor Lake Catholic 332; Columbus Watterson 319; Columbus DeSales 295; Dayton Carroll 279; Akron SVSM 273; Cincinnati McNicholas 269; Parma Padua Franciscan 263; Toledo Central Catholic 257

DIVISION IV (186 to 256)

Day. Chaminade-Julienne 249; Chardon NDCL 246; Parma Heights Holy Name 244; Kettering Alter 243; Cleveland Central Catholic 241; Middletown Fenwick 227; Columbus Hartley 213; Youngstown Ursuline 194; Youngstown Mooney 186

DIVISION V (144 to 185)

Elyria Catholic 165; Cleveland VASJ 155; Worthington Christian 154; Canton Central Catholic 147

DIVISION VI (100 to 143)

Lima Central Catholic 126; Columbus Ready 124

DIVISION VII (99 or less)

Delphos St. John’s 82; Norwalk St. Paul 82; Toledo Christian 64; Tiffin Calvert 63; Fremont St. Joe 58; Fostoria St. Wendelin 43

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©2016 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

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