I, for one, appreciate competitive balance in sports. As a fan, it’s no fun to watch the same few teams dominate season after season. I suppose it’s fun for the fans of those teams, but for the rest of us it’s just frustrating. So I understand the reasoning behind the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s unprecedented competitive balance proposal.
The proposal was born out of concerns that private schools have an unfair advantage over public schools. Statistics from the past ten years support those concerns. Even though private schools make up only 17 percent of OHSAA’s total membership, from 1999-2010 they won 43 percent of the state championships in the “eight high-profile team sports,” which include football, boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, baseball, and softball.
The new plan takes a three-pronged approach instead of just looking at total enrollment when determining which division a school should be placed in for the state tournaments. It takes into account the school boundaries, socioeconomics, and athletic success. A school’s enrollment is adjusted upward if the school is private, with no boundaries or limited boundaries, or if the school is public but has an open enrollment system. A private school with no boundaries will have 10 percent added to its enrollment, while a public school with statewide open enrollment will have 6 percent added. Schools with fewer financial resources may have an opportunity to move down a division. A school can subtract from its enrollment based on the number of free or reduced lunches the school provides; the number of free lunch participants times ten percent will be subtracted from the school’s enrollment.
The most controversial aspect of the plan is the “tradition” adjustment. Enrollment will be added based on the recent success of the program. The calculations are done on a sport-by-sport basis, so if a school has one particularly strong program it will not affect the division placement of the other sports, where the school may not be as competitive. The kicker of the tradition adjustment is that it is cumulative. As explained in the Columbus Dispatch:
“Over a four-year span, a team would have 6 percent added to its enrollment for competing in a regional final, 8 percent for a state tournament appearance and 10 percent for playing in a state title game. A perennial power, such as 11-time Division II wrestling champion St. Paris Graham, would see its enrollment adjusted by 40 percent and would be reclassified to Division I.”
People in Ohio take their sports seriously, even at the high school level. They also value tradition, which is what makes this particular portion of the proposal unpopular among many Ohio high school administrators. They don’t want to see programs being “punished” for having a tradition of success.
This plan will be put to a vote, where the principals from Ohio’s 829 member schools will have from May 1-16 to cast their ballots.
I agree that something has to be done. The gap in talent between private and public schools is growing, and so is the frustration and resentment among public high school student athletes and their parents, who feel they aren’t getting a fair shake. After all, this is high school athletics we’re talking about—schools shouldn’t be able to “buy” a state championship by recruiting all of the best players in the region. OHSAA’s plan is innovative and is a good starting point for further proposals. But as it stands now it probably will not succeed, because in Ohio you don’t mess with tradition. That’s the sticking point that may ultimately doom this proposal. With some tweaking, this plan could really work and may be used as a model for other states’ high school athletic associations.
Whether or not this proposal passes, I hope state high school athletic associations continue to strive for parity on the playing field. Sports are an integral part of the high school experience. I would hate to see enthusiasm and participation drop off because a handful of schools win all of the titles.