Thursday, January 13, 2011

New OHSAA bylaw isn't perfect, but it's a start

Mark Podolski

The Ohio High School Athletic Association's heart is in the right place.

It's newest bylaw, on recommendation from the OHSAA Competitive Balance Committee, could drastically shake up the future of Ohio high school state playoffs in a lot of sports. If passed, schools will no longer be assigned to state tournaments based on enrollment.

Unfortunately, it could be serving the interests of the lower divisions (IV, V and VI) and doing no favors to the big schools (I, II and III). It's not a perfect solution, but it's a start and the schools in the lower divisions are the ones who need a break the most when it comes to "competitive balance."

Three factors will comprise the "athletic count" of OHSAA member schools. The bylaw needs to be passed in May, so all of this could be moot without the support of schools statewide.

A quick review of the three-part formula: 1. School boundary factor. In other words, private schools that can recruit from unlimited boundaries and public schools with open enrollment could be forced to move divisions; 2. Socioeconomic factors. In other words, schools, for example, which have no problems with levies passing and ones from, shall we say, financially secure parts could be penalized; 3. Tradition factor. In other words, the more state tournaments a school participates in or wins, the chances it could be bumped from, say, Division III to Division II improve greatly.

The OHSAA needs to clarify this formula if it expects the bylaw to pass. What exactly would a school need to accomplish in the tradition factor to be bumped a division or possibly two?

Schools will be judged on the tradition factor during a four-year period. How many state titles won justifies a move? Four? Two? One? Do four state title games appearances, but no wins, outweigh a team that make one appearance, but wins it during that four-year period? What about a team that wins a state title, but the next year, the coach is no longer at the school? Or what about a team that makes four straight regional finals, but can't get over the hump to a state tournament?

Specific guidelines need to be constructed and followed without wiggle room, or this formula will be flawed from the start.

As for who's a winner and who's a loser if this bylaw passes? As stated previously, the little guys. Without naming schools (high school fans know them), this bylaw will help restore competitive balance, most notably in the Divisions V and VI, so kudos to the OHSAA.

The losers are the Division I schools, who will likely find the going even tougher come the postseason. Considering the resources the large schools already enjoy, it's difficult feeling sorry for them, but it ups the challenge. It could get interesting in the middle divisions, namely the Division III and IV schools. The difference in dropping from III to II and IV to III is big (ask any coach or athletic director), so the guess is the biggest resistance will be among those schools.

Another factor is the fine line between Division II and I. Ever wonder how the Lake Catholic football team would fare in the Division I state playoffs? Under this formula, it will likely happen. Don't expect a ton of Division I schools to be leading the bandwagon on the passing of the bylaw, either.

If it were me, I would propose separate state playoffs for private and public schools, but the open enrollment factor for some public schools would need to be fixed before going down that road. This three-factor formula is the next best thing for those who advocate change.

I say give it a chance, but the specifics need to be iron-clad to avoid controversy, complaints and confusion. Let's see if it happens.

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