Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
Local schools could change divisions based on formula
OHSAA's New Divisional Alignment Structure Proposal
By Randy Bruns
(This is the first of a three-part series to help readers understand the new divisional alignment structures that are being proposed by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Coming on Wednesday will be opinions from area coaches, athletic directors and administrators on the proposed new bylaw. The series will conclude on Thursday.)
The Ohio High School Athletic Association is proposing major changes for its divisional alignment structures, and there is a good chance that some local schools will be affected.
For many years there have been debates that have raged over whether teams from private schools have a real or perceived advantage over public schools when it comes to the high school playing fields.
In terms of state championships, some of the most successful schools of all time - St. Ignatius in football, Akron St. Vincent-St. Marys in boys basketball, South Euclid Regina in girls basketball, St. Ursula Academy in volleyball - are private schools, and many claim these schools are working with an unfair advantage.
Though the OHSAA has discussed the matter for years and twice put to a vote the possibility of having separate tournaments for public and private schools (the proposals failed both times), the state's governing high school sports board has now decided that it's time to consider another type of change.
The OHSAA Board of Directors recently put a new bylaw on the ballot for its member schools to consider, with voting to take place in May. The new bylaw doesn't attempt to separate publics and privates, but it does try to level the playing field somewhat by calculating an 'athletic count' for each school and then using those counts to classify schools into divisions.
As it stands now, schools are placed into divisions based solely on their enrollment numbers, with the largest schools going into Division I, the next largest to Division II, and so on down the line. Some sports, like basketball and volleyball, currently have four divisions, while football has six.
The proposed athletic count formula will not change the number of divisions, but it could have a significant effect on how schools are classified into those divisions. If the bylaw is passed it will only affect select sports including football, volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, and soccer, though it could be expanded to include other sports in the future.
According to a Jan. 13 press release by the OHSAA, three factors would be used along with enrollment numbers to determine a school's athletic count. The association released the specifics of each factor last Friday, with the caveat that changes could later be made by the Board of Directors.
School Boundary Factor
The first factor is termed the school boundary factor, which considers from where a school gets its students. Some contend that schools that can draw student-athletes from a wider pool have an advantage over those that must play with just the students that live in their district.
The newly released formulas appear to address this issue, as enrollment numbers would be increased for athletic count purposes depending on which of five categories a school falls into:
• Non-public schools with no boundaries: 10 percent times enrollment
• Non-public schools with limited boundaries: 8 percent times enrollment
• Public schools with statewide open enrollment: 6 percent times enrollment
• Public schools with adjacent-district open enrollment: 4 percent times enrollment
• Public schools with no open enrollment: No percentage added
Area schools have different policies when it comes to open enrollment. Those that offer statewide open enrollment include Celina, Coldwater, Fort Recovery, New Bremen, New Knoxville and St. Marys; while Marion Local, Minster and Parkway offer adjacent-district open enrollment. St. Henry is currently the only local school that does not offer any form of open enrollment.
The second proposed criterion for determining schools' athletic counts is dubbed the socioeconomic factor. While the OHSAA hasn't yet cited any documentation, the theory goes that schools with students of lesser means are at a disadvantage compared to schools with students that come from more affluent families. Thus, the number of participants in the National School Lunch Program in each school will be used to determine that school's socioeconomic factor.
The wording of the OHSAA's formula for the school lunch calculation is quite murky and will hopefully be clarified soon, but as of now it reads like this:
"The number of free lunch participants within either the high school (if exact data is provided) or school district times 10 percent equals number to be subtracted from enrollment."
It appears that the highest percentage that can be deducted from a school's enrollment for athletic count purposes is 10 percent, but until the OHSAA clarifies the formula this will remain an open question.
As can be seen from the formula, the socioeconomic factor would only be used to lower a school's athletic count, meaning a school with no free lunch participants would not have its athletic count increased in any way.
Free lunch statistics are available online at the Ohio Department of Education's website (www.ode.state.oh.us), but not all area schools are reported in the same manner. Some quick research indicates that most, if not all, area schools are below the state average for free lunches. Thus, this factor will not likely have a large impact on the athletic counts of schools in the Grand Lake area, at least in relation to the counts of the other schools in the state.
The final factor to be considered in determining the new athletic counts is the tradition factor. This aspect was added because the OHSAA believes that "student athletes often want to go to a program that has a tradition of success," thus giving successful schools an advantage over less-successful schools.
The tradition factor would be applied on a sport-by-sport basis, meaning, for instance, that a school's football team wouldn't be bumped up a division just because its baseball team had won state the previous three years.
The most recent four years would be taken into account when determining the tradition factor, with additions to enrollments being made under the following guidelines:
• Appearances in a regional final: 6 percent times enrollment
• Appearances in state tournament: 8 percent times enrollment
• Appearances in state finals: 10 percent times enrollment
Given the Grand Lake area schools' rich tradition of success at the highest levels of tournament play in most sports, the tradition factor will certainly have the largest impact on area schools.
Since the 1999-2000 athletic year, the 10 area schools have made 51 state finals appearances, 71 state tournament appearances, and many more regional finals appearances in the seven sports targeted by the new bylaw. That means that the schools' tradition factors may well play a part in potentially bumping them up a division in a particular sport.
The press release notes that "while the highest percentage would be used for each individual year, the total percentage for all four years would be added together to arrive at the tradition factor."
One example of how the tradition factor could affect a specific area team involves the Marion Local volleyball program. Over the past four years the Flyers won three state titles and lost in the regional final once. Using the formulas above and this year's enrollment numbers, Marion's athletic count for the volleyball team would be increased 36 percent from 112 girls to 152 girls.
The Flyers have always competed in Division IV, which is the smallest division and is comprised of schools having 124 female students or less. With a new athletic count of 152 girls, it appears the Flyers would be moved to Division III, though nothing would be official until all schools' athletic counts are calculated and new divisional cutoffs are established.
Though the formulas involved sound complicated, OHSAA Commissioner Dan Ross argues otherwise.
"Competitive balance is a complex issue," stated Ross in the first OHSAA press release. "The formula recommended by the committee is not as complex as it sounds, nor is it as complex as any of the viable alternatives and the unintended consequences of those alternatives."
The OHSAA formed a Competitive Balance Committee last January after some northeast Ohio school administrators pointed out that non-public schools were winning a disproportionate share of state championships. Their data showed that of the 340 state championships in selected team sports between 1999 and 2010, 146 were won by non-public schools, which equates to 43 percent. The number was a concern because of all the OHSAA's member schools, only 17 percent are non-public.
The Competitive Balance Committee was made up of 29 coaches and school administrators from a broad range of different types and sizes of schools across Ohio, along with OHSAA board members and representatives from the state's superintendents and principals associations.
The OHSAA's proposal for a new way to calculate a school's athletic count will be based on three factors along with enrollment numbers. The three new proposed factors are:
1. School Boundary Factor
2. Socioeconomic Factor
3. Tradition Factor