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Sunday, December 21, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2014 - Updated: 7 months ago

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Monitoring new prep rule is the challenge

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

It’s one man’s opinion, mind you, but I never felt as if the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s battle over competitive balance resonated all that much in the Toledo area.

Maybe it’s because we have long had fairly unique athletic alliances such as the old City League and the new Three Rivers Athletic Conference, marriages between public and private schools. And we’ve witnessed abuses — recruiting, creative financial aid, district hopping, etc. — on both sides of such alliances to the point where it became a shoulder-shrugging way of life.

But it has long been a real issue in other parts of the state, especially in rural districts where small-town public schools would have great seasons only to get to tournament time and run into private school teams, often from metro areas, that operated under different rules when it came to procuring their student-athlete enrollment.

It was a serious issue in that there was talk of open revolt, the creation of separate state tournaments. This is not exactly new. The first vote on the issue was in 1978, during a 20-year period (1972-92) when private schools won more than half of all team sports titles.

The vote in ’78 wasn’t close as only 19 percent of the OHSAA schools that voted were in favor of a split. By the next vote in the mid-1990s, however, that jumped to 33 percent.

When Dan Ross became OHSAA commissioner in 2005 he realized the revolt had gained even more traction and he said, “We’re going to look at a multiplier or [other] options to make the playoff field more level.”

Thus, the focus turned to competitive balance formulas, but votes on proposals in 2011 and 2012 failed, partly because large numbers of schools, oddly enough, failed to submit ballots.

By 2013, proponents were successful in placing another public-private tournament separation referendum on the ballot, but it was withdrawn a month before the vote was scheduled in order to let the OHSAA try again to balance the competition. That too failed, mostly because it was a hurry-up effort and Ross admits his organization didn’t sufficiently educate its member schools.

Nobody came out and said it, but that made the 2014 referendum a last chance, must-win to hold off the factions that would prefer to see a separation of public and private. And, on Friday, the OHSAA announced its competitive balance proposal had passed rather easily and with record numbers of schools voting.

The key element is a multiplier process that inflates a school’s enrollment numbers based on the number of out-of-district players on team sports rosters. It will affect public schools that offer open enrollment as well as private schools that draw from vaguely-defined boundaries. It’s not easy to explain, but when enrollment is used to assign tournament divisions it should protect those smaller public schools with distinct borders.

More than anything, it should end any push for separate state tournaments. And nobody with a sense of the state’s rich athletic history really wanted that.

“I’m really relieved,” Ross said. “We are not supporters of separate tournaments. Now we have a plan.”

It’s a start, sure. But some schools that worked the system in the past will undoubtedly try to work this system, too. There will be the need for transparency in enrollment reports and for strict oversight and enforcement by the OHSAA, things that Toledo area observers might suggest have been shoddy.

The devil will be in the details. That’s the new challenge.

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



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