IHSAA Wrestles with Public/Private School Problem

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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)



Barr-Reeve's boys' basketball team lived the small-school dream, capturing the Class A state championship in 2015 and was runner-up in '14. Because of the IHSAA's "success factor," however, the Vikings were bumped up to 2A in 2016 and lost in the sectional the past two seasons.

Barr-Reeve, with an enrollment of 203, will move back to Class A for the 2017-18 season. The Class 2A enrollment cutoff is 306, with the exception of Michigan City Marquette Catholic (273), which was bumped up. The Vikings represent Barr and Reeve townships, a consolation of the hamlets of Montgomery and Alfordsville.

When the IHSAA expanded its postseason format to four classes in 1997-98, it probably didn't envision schools from Indianapolis (Tindley) and Lafayette (Central Catholic) playing for the Class A state championship.

Barr-Reeve coach Bryan Hughes believes the recent influx of small charter schools in larger cities has thrown the classes out of competitive balance. Unlike Hughes, Bosse coach Shane Burkhart would have relished the challenge of playing up a class next season. Because the Bulldogs lost in the Seymour Semistate and did not advance to the state championship game, they will remain in 3A.

Of course, they are in an entirely different situation than Barr-Reeve. Bosse is located in the state's third-largest city (Evansville) and play a predominately 4A schedule. Six of their eight losses were to 4A schools. Their lone loss to a 3A school was Indianapolis Crispus Attucks in the semistate; Bosse's other loss was to Owensboro (Kentucky) Senior.

"We wanted to play in 4A, but didn't get that chance," Burkhart said. "We wanted to prepare ourselves for that during our 3A run. Our goal was to win a state championship and sustain a state championship winning level, regardless of what classification."

In January, Alabama proposed separating postseason tournaments, one for public schools and one for private schools. Tennessee created a separate Division II for financial-aid schools.

The IHSAA dealt with this ongoing conundrum by implementing the two-year tournament "success factor" in 2012, bumping up schools a class if they accumulated enough points the previous two seasons.

"We want to be known as the best and we want to play the best," Burkhart said. "That's what Bosse stands for. We will continue to push our kids to that level."

While Burkhart wishes his team was playing in 4A, Hughes is glad his team will return to the state's smallest class this winter.

"Personally, I think we're a 1A school," Hughes said. "Our enrollment is not close to being a 2A school. Could we compete in 2A? Absolutely. We didn't win a sectional, but we won 19 and 23 games."

Hughes said the IHSAA installed the "success factor" in an effort to slow the dominance of parochial football powerhouses, such as Indianapolis Chatard and Indianapolis Cathedral. Chatard holds the record with 13 state championships while Cathedral is second with 12.

Because of the "success factor," Cathedral was eventually bumped up from 4A to 6A, the state's largest class.

IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox was not a member of the board of directors when the state scrapped the traditional one-class format and expanded postseason to four classes.

"At that time, I was neither on the board and/or the staff so I would be only assuming intent," Cox said. "Here is what I can confirm from the past 20 years of record collection about championships in multiple class sports. Currently, there have been 530 team championships awarded over the past 20 years and 186 of those have been won by private schools."

That represents 35.1 percent of all championships offered in team sports during this period. There are 48 private schools among 410 IHSAA members (11.7 percent).

Cox said: "I suppose the question here is, 'How many championships should private schools win?'"

Over the past several years, various proposals have been tendered regarding differing methods of classification.

"In all cases, these proposals artificially modified the enrollments of private schools and/or urban schools using multipliers or reverse multipliers," Cox said. "In either scenario, those measures would only be applied to a select group of member schools thus creating a discriminatory environment. Our board rightfully rejected these overtures. To continue to strive for competitive balance, I authored a new rule for our bylaws commonly known as the 'success factor.'"

He insists Rule 2-5 (the "success factor") did not focus primarily on football but all team sports.

"In fact, in the last reclassification, 13 public schools and 13 private schools were moved to an enrollment classification above where there reported enrollment would have naturally placed them," Cox said. "In this application, each school was treated equally based upon their success in our tournaments."

Cox grows weary of references that the "success factor" is a punishment.

"It would seem to me that schools would want to play against the best competition available within reason," he said. "Multiple classes in our team sports was the first step toward achieving these goals. The provisions of Rule 2-5 further fine tunes classifications of our membership."

Spoken like the politician he is. Of course, the IHSAA can't simply "punish" football powers such as Chatard and Cathedral, who would have reason to file a lawsuit for being singled out.

Separating postseason into separate public and private school tournaments doesn't seem to be the answer, either.

As the Brits would say, it's a sticky wicket (with no easy answers readily available).

Contact Gordon Engelhardt at Gordon.engelhardt@courierpress.com or 812-464-7518/@EngGordon

Gordon Engelhardt

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