By Joe Scalzo
Who’s ready for Round 4?
For the third straight year — but by the closest vote yet — principals for the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s member schools voted down a competitive balance proposal that would have attempted to level the playing field for high school sports.
The final tally was 327-308 (51.5 percent to 48.5 percent), with 157 schools not voting during the May 1-15 voting period. Also, 27 schools responded after the deadline and four votes were declared invalid.
OHSAA members did approve a bylaw that will reduce the penalty for most transfers from one year of ineligibility to half a season. Also, transfers who did not play a sport at the previous school would be immediately eligible to play that sport at the new school.
“I thought it would be the closest one and it was right down to the wire,” OHSAA commissioner Dr. Dan Ross said of Competitive Balance III. “I’m disappointed because I was really hoping it would pass.”
The proposal would have added a multiplier to schools’ enrollment based on the number of athletes whose parents live outside the public school district or attendance zone, bumping up the divisions of schools that draw athletes from several districts. (In Ohio, 516 of the 664 public school districts offer some form of open enrollment and private schools typically draw from multiple school districts.)
The proposal, which would have applied to football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball, replaced a previous one that would have separated the tournaments for public and private schools.
While Ross is hoping to tweak this proposal for a re-vote next spring, there’s a good chance schools will vote on the public-private proposal instead.
Wooster Triway superintendent Dave Rice, who helped draft the public-private split, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer he will push for a modified separation that is limited to football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball and baseball.
“We had an awful lot of comments on our ballots that said, ‘We’re not sure if this is going to pass or not, but it’s a step in the right direction,’” Ross said. “I just kind of hope we stay out of the extreme issue [of separating the tournaments] in dealing with this.
“We know we have to be patient and give more opportunities to educate the public and give more information to the schools.”
Previous competitive balance proposals (which were more complicated) failed 339 to 301 (53 percent to 47 percent) in 2012 and 332 to 303 (52 percent to 48 percent) in 2011. The proposals have all tried to deal with this problem: From 1999-2010, non-public schools made up 18 percent of the OHSAA’s membership but won about 43 percent of the state titles, an imbalance that hasn’t changed in recent years.
Salem principal Joe Shivers, who voted against the latest proposal, said he doubts the OHSAA will come up with a perfect option and believes certain schools will find a way to game the system no matter what.
“I’m not sure the new system would have been better,” Shivers said. “I’m not sure it would not have led to more loopholes.
“Maybe if they had piloted it for a year to see how it worked out and then gone on [with a vote], it would have been different.”
Shivers has grown weary with the referendums — “I think the voters have spoken enough times that it’s time to move on” — and wishes the Wayne County superintendents (who have pushed for the public-private split) would spend more time on academic issues.
“I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but I wish they’d spend the same amount of effort on closing the gap between the highest-performing schools academically and the lowest,” Shivers said. “There’s a huge gap in Ohio and in the long run, that’s much more important for society and for the kids.”
Randy Rair, an assistant superintendent for the Youngstown Diocese, said his organization recommended that its five schools (Cardinal Mooney, Ursuline, Warren JFK, Canton Central Catholic and Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas) vote down the proposal.
He said the diocese had two main problems with the proposal. First, athletes who attended Catholic grade schools all their lives shouldn’t count toward the multiplier.
“If a kid started at St. Rose [in Girard] in kindergarten and went to Catholic schools his whole life up to Ursuline, we don’t feel that gives Ursuline a competitive advantage,” he said.
Second, he doesn’t believe schools should move up more than one division. Canton Central Catholic’s basketball team, for instance, would have moved up from Division III to Division I under the latest proposal.
“At Canton Central Catholic, only 12 percent of the students are from Perry Township,” Rair said. “It would have a really drastic effect on schools like that.
“Moving up one division is one thing; we feel like our teams can still compete. But when you ask schools to move up two divisions when they’re already struggling [like Central’s basketball team], it didn’t seem like a good fit.”
Rair, obviously, also opposes a public-private split, as do many public schools who fear that the competitive imbalance would only grow if the private schools opted to leave the OHSAA and form their own organization with their own recruiting and eligibility guidelines.
“I don’t want to give any specifics because it’s all hypothetical but there are competitive balance proposals that we could probably live with,” Rair said. “To be honest, I don’t think this latest one was real well thought out.
“I’m just speculating, but it seems like they were really concerned that the separation [of tournaments] would pass and so they threw something together at the last minute.”
Canfield athletic director Greg Cooper, who worked on previous competitive balance initiatives, said he’s not sure what the next step should be.
“Do we tinker with it and try again, ala the competitive balance proposal from before?” Cooper said. “Or do we anticipate the Wayne County superintendents making a big push for separate playoffs?
“And what happens if we vote that down? Then we’ve spent three or four years spinning our wheels and not changing anything. Personally, I believe that [split] is too drastic a course of action. I think it could ultimately negatively impact the OHSAA playoffs as we know them across the board.”