OHSAA: Separate tourney issue off May ballot

By Doug Chapin

The Ohio High School Athletic Association has shifted gears regarding the potential separation — for tournament play — of public and non-public schools in the state.

The organization announced Friday that a referendum item on the OHSAA May ballot that would have called for all tournaments to be conducted separately has been removed.

Commissioner Daniel B. Ross said that in its place the OHSAA Board of Directors has approved a new competitive-balance proposal. The new plan could increase a school’s initial enrollment count on a sport-by-sport basis depending on how many students on that particular team’s roster are from outside that school’s district or designated attendance zone.

“I don’t think splitting the schools was ever necessarily the answer but people are trying to come up with some kind of solution,” Austintown Fitch football coach Phil Annarella said. “They’ve done similar things in other states, using a multiplier, and I think that’s ultimately the right way to go, or at least to be headed in that direction. Will it pass? Who knows? But I know enough people are upset enough to warrant attention to the situation.”

Proposals that called for tournaments to be conducted separately for public and non-public schools were defeated in 1978 (84 percent to 16 percent) and 1993 (67 percent to 33 percent).

In 2011 and 2012, OHSAA membership narrowly defeated competitive-balance formulas for team sports that would have considered several factors including how schools obtain students, socioeconomics and a school’s tradition on a sport-by-sport basis.

“Some of the initial discussions by the original OHSAA Competitive Balance Committee included some of the same elements that are in this new proposal,” Ross said in a news release.

“It is generally believed that in addition to the size of enrollment, students on a school’s team roster who are from outside that school’s geographic boundary or attendance zone does affect athletic success. So this concept is not something that is entirely new.”

Some area coaches are pragmatic about the issue, ready to move on no matter the outcome of the referendum.

“We love what we have at Canfield, we have great kids, we have great support,” said Pat Pavlansky, girls basketball coach at Canfield. “Whoever they tell us to play, we’ll go play them and that’s fine with me.”

“If you want to be considered an elite team you have to beat the top teams whether they are public or parochial,” Warren Harding football coach Steve Arnold said. “In talking with coaches at private schools, I don’t think they wanted separation from public schools and I don’t know how many public school coaches wanted the separation.

“It is what it is. You just to have to go out and play the game. As coaches we’re not in position to make the call, so we just deal with it and move forward.”

Cardinal Mooney football coach P.J. Fecko said that no matter what the OHSAA ultimately did, not all would be pleased.

“It’s everything in life whether it’s politics and political parties or this or that. You are never going to make 100 percent of the population of whatever you are doing happy,” he said. “You just need to go forward and try to put something in place that satisfies the majority of the people. No matter what side you’re on, no matter what side you agree with or disagree with, we know it’s impossible to satisfy everyone.”

The issue is one that has affected scholastic athletics in Ohio for decades. The advent of open enrollment for public schools has not resolved anything, Annarella said.

“When they start talking parochial or private schools and public schools everybody right away jumps on the bandwagon and says public schools have open enrollment,” he said. “That is true, but in open enrollment if a kid decides to go to another public school they have to sit out a year. I don’t know how many people understand that. How many kids are going to give up a year of playing sports just to transfer to another school? Open enrollment is a misnomer and it’s not what everybody thinks it is.”

The OHSAA will hold Athletic Discussion Meetings at 14 sites next month in which the administrative staff will review proposed referendum items including the new competitive-balance proposal. Membership will have the opportunity to ask questions directly to Ross during webinars on a date or dates to be announced.

Voting by high school principals on the 2013 referendum issues will take place May 1-15. A majority vote is needed for a proposal to be adopted.

The proposal would affect football, soccer and volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball and softball in the spring. It would not be implemented until the 2015-16 school year.