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Published: Saturday, 5/18/2013

Vote sets up bad scenario for OHSAA

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

The Ohio High School Athletic Association and its member schools have a potential mess on their hands.

A reasonable solution to a sometimes unreasonable problem, a proposal for competitive balance that would have adjusted for out-of-district enrollment and created a more level playing field in state championship tournaments, was voted down by a slim margin last week.

Would it have been perfect for all schools? No. There’s no such thing as perfection. But it was close, and so was the vote. In regard to the latter, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and now the OHSAA might be about to have the pin pulled.

The recent referendum surely targeted private high schools, although it would have affected any public school, as well, that allows open enrollment. Multipliers would have been attached to out-of-district athletes in certain sports, artificially inflating the student population mostly to prevent private schools from having their way in small-enrollment divisions of state tournaments.

Using a fictitious school, St. Nowhere, as our example, this is why and how it could have worked. St. Nowhere, like some Catholic high schools, has enrollment problems but still draws from a large metropolitan area and often entices premier athletes. However, as a Division III school based on enrollment, it goes against public schools in tourney play whose district boundaries might be four miles long and four miles wide.

To correct that imbalance, every St. Nowhere athlete who comes from outside its contiguous public school district would have been multiplied — by two in football, by five in basketball, by other numbers in other sports — to create an enrollment figure that would elevate the Nowheres into a larger-enrollment division.

Fair? That depends on who you ask. The private schools would likely say no. I wonder, however, if they realized that by voting no they were about to kick themselves in the you-know-what.

The vote was 308 in favor of the referendum, 327 against. Considering there are only 132 private high schools among 823 total OHSAA members — 188 schools either didn’t bother to vote or had their ballots procedurally disqualified — you might wonder how this could possibly fail.

Let me tell you how. This was the third competitive balance proposal to be voted down in as many years. The OHSAA let this issue slide for so many years that a serious and organized grass-roots campaign began to create separate state tournaments for public and private schools. Once that worked up a head of steam, the OHSAA tried to put brakes to it with these three other referendums.

In fact, the split championships proposal was supposed to be on this spring’s ballot, but its backers agreed to pull it in favor of the latest, and most compelling, competitive balance attempt.

“I will be consulting with our board of directors to see what action, if any, we take next,” OHSAA Commissioner Daniel Ross said, “but I anticipate at a minimum that a proposal on separate tournaments for public and no-public schools will again be placed on the ballot next spring via the petition process.”

You’d better believe it, one of the petition organizers said.

“This time it won’t be pulled,” Dave Rice, superintendent of Triway Schools in Wooster, told the Fremont News-Messenger.

A local public school athletic director I spoke with Friday explained that his school had voted no on competitive balance for reasons I couldn’t quite follow. No matter. When I mentioned that the next vote would likely be for separate public-private tournaments, his response explained everything.

“Now, we’d have to look at that one a little closer,” he said, his voice reflecting enthusiasm. “That does mean a little more to us. It means that in postseason tournaments, we’d be playing schools a little more comparable to us.”

And there’s the best explanation I can come up with as to why competitive balance failed. The other issue is out there, everybody knows it, and some of them can’t wait to get to it.

Public schools, many from smaller and/or rural districts that never face a private school foe until tournament time, as well as those from metro districts that lose countless students/athletes to neighboring private schools, are tired of being at a disadvantage. Separate tournaments are their answer.

I understand the sentiment, but maybe we should let the kids vote because I also think that split championships mean watered-down titles on both sides.

I’ve heard private school coaches and ADs doubt it would ever come to that while hinting that if it did, the private schools just might break away from the OHSAA and run their own tournaments.

We don’t have the space to get into the headaches that might create. But it would be a mess.

And, unfortunately, with the demise of the competitive balance referendum, it may be right around the corner.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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