By Rob Todor
The vote to create a competitive balance in the Ohio High School Athletic Association was as close as anticipated. So was the debate.
The only thing that can’t be agreed on is — now that the referendum was defeated — what’s the next step.
Greg Cooper, the athletic director at Canfield High School and a member of the Competitive Balance committee established by the OHSAA, is open to suggestions.
“It’s going to be interesting now to see if the Wayne County superintendents look to resurrect, by some other means, a proposal [to fix] what they perceive as an uneven playing field,” said Cooper.
That was the group that circulated a survey around the state some years ago to gather information which was eventually presented to the OHSAA. The Wayne group said their study showed a majority of superintendents in Ohio favored a change. They pointed to a statistic that showed private schools making up less than 20 percent of the number of schools in the state, yet winning more than 40 percent of the state championship.
The Competitive Balance committee was formed, and one of the points they agreed on was that there are differences between schools that may have very similar enrollments.
Currently, the OHSAA divides its sports based on the enrollment of students in grades 9-11, based on numbers provided by the Department of Education.
The referendum, if passed, would have added a percentage to that basic enrollment if a school was private or public, if the school had open enrollment, and how wide of an area from which it drew students.
The committee also came up with a “socio-economic” factor, based on the number of students who qualified for free lunches in grades 9-12. The committee felt that was the most common, and easily quantified factor, that could determine the ability of the students (and their families) in a school to afford private coaching and extensive off-season sports participation.
Finally, schools’ level of success in each sport would be measured. Teams that advanced to regional or state-level competition would have a percentage added to their base enrollment.
Ursuline High athletic director Sean Durkin said he wasn’t surprised the referendum went down — the final vote was 332-303.
“It seemed obvious that everyone was going to act in their own self-interest,” said Durkin. “It wasn’t too difficult to look at the formula and put your numbers in there and see where you were going to end up. And you could do that for other schools as well, and I think some [administrators] saw the where certain schools might move up or down into their division.”
Durkin said Ursuline’s attitude was, basically, to go with the flow.
“We weren’t real concerned with it, to be honest with you,” he said. “Put us where you want and we’ll go from there.”
Durkin did say, he believes most competitive-balance plans are slanted against private schools.
“A lot of people take exception to that,” he said. “We [private schools] are willing to bend a little bit, but there’s only so far we’ll bend.”
Cooper believes the closeness of the vote shows that most administrators feel there is a need to make a change, but there’s far from a consensus on the best way to achieve it.
“It’s hard to predict what’s next,” said Cooper, who said the Competitive Balance committee is scheduled to have a conference call later this week. “I’m sure it will renew the discussion … certainly there will be those now who believe we should have a referendum of separate playoffs. I have a problem with separate but equal. but just using the enrollment of the school is perhaps to simplistic for this point.”
Durkin said he could forsee a time when private schools consider making leaving the OHSAA.
“We’re happy, we’re willing to bend a little bit,” he said. “We don’t want to split, the OHSAA doesn’t want us to leave and I think most public schools want us to stay.
“But if it [competitive-balance issues] continues to go the way against private schools there may be a split.”