OHSAA Still Striving for Competitive Balance

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Copyright 2013 The Columbus Dispatch
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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

The Ohio High School Athletic Association, which oversees more than 800 high schools, is our state's largest melting pot. It has been stirred by a group of smaller, public schools that would like to see a public-private separation of state tournaments. They want to crack the pot.

At the moment, though, they are paused.

The OHSAA's annual deadline for submitting petitions for referendum items passed last week. There were no submissions. So, when the membership meets next May, it will not have to vote on separating tournaments.

What happened to the separation petition?

It is possible that there were not enough signatures to qualify for a referendum. Then again, the people behind the petition have not had that problem in the past. Maybe they simply decided to stand down for the moment. That is possible. Maybe they are giving the OHSAA and its members another chance to address the key issue, which is competitive balance. There is precedent for this, as well.

Dan Ross, commissioner of the association, and his people have another opportunity before them.

The state football championships were staged last weekend. Of the 224 schools that qualified in seven tournament divisions, 34 were parochial schools. Of the 14 finalists, four were parochial schools. Of the seven champions, two are parochial schools. Put another way: 15 percent of the field and 28.5 percent of the finalists and champions were nonpublic schools.

If competitive balance is most often a football-related issue, one might say that it does not appear to be a major problem, not if the 2013 state tournaments are an accurate measure. But it is a problem -- often overstated, but still a problem, and a complicated one.

Private schools make up 17 percent of the OHSAA membership. In recent years, they have won anywhere from 45 to 63 percent of the state team titles, depending on the sport. It is clear: The system allows an advantage to parochial, private and charter schools, and schools in open-enrollment districts such as Columbus'.

Smaller, public schools in underfunded districts have a right to call a foul. The loudest call has come from the separatists, but they can be appeased. Now is the time.

The OHSAA has in recent years attempted to legislate a more level playing field. It has sought to use other criteria -- boundaries, tradition and socioeconomic considerations -- to adjust enrollment figures at private and open-enrollment schools. Three times, the legislation has been defeated.

The work of Ross and the OHSAA's competitive balance committee has been redoubled in recent months. Their intention is to finally craft something that will pass muster with the majority of their members. They are close.

Earlier this year, at the OHSAA's last annual meeting, a competitive-balance referendum was defeated by 19 votes. Only 625 of 823 member schools cast ballots. Last year, a similar referendum was defeated by a similar margin by a similar body of voters.

"We're still moving forward, like we've done the past three years," OHSAA spokesman Tim Stried said. "Now that we know separation items are not on the ballot, it's not as complicated. It's Dr. Ross' opinion that doing nothing is not an option."

The OHSAA's competitive-balance committee continues its regular meetings. They are still tweaking. When they are done, they will put their proposal before the state board of directors. If the board signs off on it, a ballot measure will go before the association body next spring.

A few other states have instituted measures in attempts to level their tournament fields, but no other state has sought such a comprehensive and enlightened solution as Ohio is considering. One would hope that more than 625 principals will get off their, um, chairs to cast a vote next time around. You know, for the kids.

Our state already runs some of the best high-school tournaments in the country. If separating them would greatly diminish them, a competitive-balance solution would make them the ultimate standard.

Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.

[email protected]



December 10, 2013




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