By STEVE RUMAN
A change in eligibility rules, an extension of the baseball season and a possible return of Saturday playoff football highlight recent actions taken by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Earlier this month, OHSAA member schools voted 450-244 in favor of a referendum item which requires student-athlete transfers to sit out the second half of their seasons, including the postseason.
The bylaw, which went into effect May 16, includes all OHSAA sanctioned sports. It will affect all athletes who do not meet one of a list of 11 exceptions.
Previously, transfers were not permitted to participate during the first half of the season in their respective sports. They were eligible to participate in the second half of the regular season and all tournament games.
“Three years ago, many of our coaches approached us and their concern was that the 50 percent [sit-out period] was at the wrong end of the season,” said OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross at a May 15 Media Advisory Committee meeting. “Coaches were using the tournament as a recruiting tool.
“The coaches associations know this is not going to completely stop recruiting, but it will help deter people from saying, ‘Come over and play with us and you’ll help us win a state title.’”
Western Reserve football coach Andy Hake acknowledged that the latest attempt to curb the transferring of students strictly for athletic purposes “is not a fix-all.” Still, he believes the new bylaw will be much more effective than its predecessor.
“It’s great that the OHSAA is trying to do things to help even out the playing field for the community schools,” Hake said. “And, the fact that the referendum passed by such a large margin tells me that a whole lot of people understand that there is a problem.
“The previous transfer rule, it was a deterrent but at the same time a kid knew he was going to be eligible for the heart of the season. Now, what’s going to be the point if you can’t play for a league title or the playoffs? It will be interesting to see how this affects schools like Cornerstone Christian and Akron St. Vs come basketball time.”
Springfield basketball coach Steve French noted that with the 11 exceptions to the transfer rule, “student-athletes can still probably get around the rule if they fight hard enough.”
Still, he believes the rule change was overdue.
“I don’t know what type of impact it will have in the Mahoning Valley, because you don’t see a whole lot of movement here,” French said. “But in some parts of the state, it’s commonplace. And this isn’t just a parochial school issue. Some of the open enrollment public schools are the biggest offenders.”
Warren John F. Kennedy football coach Jeff Bayuk noted that in his four-year tenure at the school, four of his players were forced to sit out the first half of the season due the previous transfer rule. Just one of those players participated on a playoff team.
“Honestly, the message is a bit puzzling,” Bayuk said. “If the state wants a true deterrent, why not just say that the athletes can’t play at all. That being said, the rule won’t have much impact on our program.”
Bayuk said he believes the transfer rules in general are contradictory to the state’s open enrollment policy.
“The state is all in favor of a student moving districts for educational reasons; well, extracurricular activities are part of the overall learning experience,” Bayuk said. “Why are we impeding on someone’s choice to change schools for what might be legitimate reasons when the state encourages open enrollment?”
In April, the OHSAA board of directors approved by a 7-2 vote a proposal from the baseball coaches association to extend the season one week beginning with the 2019 season.
The number of regular season games permitted will remain at 27; however, the start of the tournament will be pushed back by a week. As a result, the 2019 state tournament, originally slated to take place May 30–June 1, will be moved to June 6-8.
Last year, the board of directors turned down a proposal to extend the season by two weeks.
“This is probably the best solution, the best compromise for everyone involved,” Canfield athletic director Greg Cooper said. “We can’t start the season any earlier than we already do, and we’ve seen this year how the spring sports season can be greatly impacted by weather.”
Some have argued that a later tournament will conflict with graduations and other year-end and non-school events.
However, Cooper noted that in most cases, graduations are already taking place by the time the state tournaments are held in baseball, softball and track.
And, while the baseball season for those who make a deep tournament run may extend beyond the school year, this is already the norm in other sports.
“We have soccer, volleyball and football being played in the summer before the start of a school year, so it’s really no different,” Cooper said. “The bottom line is that these kids put in so much time, they want to get the most out of their seasons. This gives them that chance.”
Niles baseball coach Mike Guarnieri said he doesn’t see any downside in the extension.
“Almost every year, the weather plays havoc with the conference schedule,” Guarnieri said. “We’re trying to cram so many games into a short window at the end of every season. It’s just not fair to the players who put in so much time and energy to do things the right way.”
Soon, the OHSAA will vote on whether to go back to a Friday-Saturday format for the first four rounds of the football playoffs. Last year, all playoff games with the exception of the championship round were played on Friday nights.
The overall attendance for the five rounds of the 2017 playoffs decreased by 34,106 from the previous year. There was an increase of 5,891 fans during the seven title games.
“As a fan of the game, I hope they put some of the games back to Saturday,” Bayuk said. “During the postseason, I want to have the opportunity to see as many of the local teams play as possible. It just doesn’t make sense to cram everything into a Friday night.”
Hake said the all-Friday format “does an injustice to our student-athletes.
“Let as many of these kids have the spotlight as possible,” Hake said. “It’s like the state was bowing to the Big 10 Network, or to college football in general.
“Fans in Ohio have always supported high school football no matter what day it is played. Don’t take that away from the players or fans.”
The OHSAA has yet to decide which division or divisions might be moved back to Saturday.