Opinion: Preserve the Public-Private Union in Ohio HS Tournaments

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Copyright 2013 The Columbus Dispatch
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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
November 4, 2013 Monday
702 words
Separating tournaments bad for preps;
Michael Arace, The Columbus Dispatch

There is, once again, a movement afoot to separate Ohio's high-school state tournaments, to cleave private schools from public schools. Let it fail.

The movement has its impetus in a legitimate problem. Today, the day after the football playoff pairings were announced, it might be put this way: A host of small, public schools are tired of running into bigger, better-funded parochial programs and having their dreams dashed.

The problem is not new, nor is the separation movement. One can only hope that common sense prevails, as it has for decades, and the union is preserved. Disunion is fraught with problems both predictable and unforeseen.

There are not enough participants in sports like field hockey, ice hockey and gymnastics to sustain separate tournaments. Those sports would be placed on a path that leads away from the Ohio High School Athletic Association and its educational mission -- which is supposed to be the point of school-based competition. This should not be taken lightly.

There are not enough private schools to stock more than one tournament division in any sport, not even basketball. Would Ready be equipped to face the likes of Toledo Central Catholic?

While on the subject: What is to prevent the Catholic schools from breaking away from the OHSAA altogether and creating their own statewide association? It has been talked about. It would kill any number of rivalries that have built up over a century. It also would create a boundary between haves and have-nots, to the detriment of all.

I could go on, but the point is clear: Segregation is infinitely more problematic than the status quo.

Yet last month, a petition began circulating among principals of member schools in the OHSAA, which counts more than 800 high schools in its union. The petitioners seek a ballot measure, and another vote, to separate all state tournaments.

Private schools make up 17 percent of the membership and win anywhere from 45 to 63 percent of the state team titles, depending on the sport. Parochial, private and charter schools, and schools in open-enrollment districts such as the ones in Columbus, have access to more athletes, and they recruit, covertly or otherwise. A growing faction of smaller districts wants a more level playing field.

There were attempts, in 1978 and 1993, to make a public-private split. Each time, OHSAA members voted against separation, and by a wide margin.

The OHSAA in recent years headed off separation votes by trying to address competitive balance through other legislation. The association sought to go beyond enrollment -- and use boundaries, tradition and socioeconomic considerations -- to determine sport-by-sport athletic counts. Such proposals have thrice been defeated by narrow margins. They need more tweaking.

It is that time of year. The football playoffs are upon us. The latest separatist petition is circulating. If 75 principals sign the petition, the issue goes back up for a vote in May.

OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross is increasingly engaged in the issue. He is becoming more proactive because he wants the association's stance to be clearly defined. Last week, he sent a memo to all member superintendents and principals and urged them not to sign the petition. The memo contains a link to documents that explain, in detail, that separating tournaments would be "harmful to member schools and, most importantly, the students we serve."

The OHSAA argues that separation would cause a radical change in tournament formats, incur greater costs and threaten relationships with longstanding sponsors. There also is the specter of a logistical nightmare created by two different sets of bylaws for two different tournament groups (not to mention a possible break with Catholic schools).

"Our competitive balance committee has had four meetings, and we have another meeting this week," Ross said yesterday. "We're putting together what we believe to be important and effective changes to the system, without separation."

Ohio, for more than 100 years, has staged some of the best state tournaments in the country. That could change, but it should not, and it does not have to.

Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.

[email protected]


November 4, 2013

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