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Will competitive balance matter for the OHSAA?

Blasting Post

By MICHAEL LEONARD Sports Editor Published: July 2, 2017 12:00 AM
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Competitive balance is a reality starting this fall for the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

Count me among those who believe it's not going to matter much -- but I prefer this option than breaking up the OHSAA into separate public and private-school entities.

Beginning this fall, the OHSAA's system of the dividing high schools into postseason divisions for football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball changes. It will no longer be based solely on student enrollment in the ninth, 10th and 11th grade.

The OHSAA will adjust enrollment numbers on a sport-by-sports basis, based on where schools draw their student-athletes from.

What this system is designed to do is move schools who draw beyond their district boundaries (or in non-public schools case, their designated "feeder" schools) into higher divisions due to them having wider access to student athletes.

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Keep in mind, this system was agreed upon after four years of voting by OHSAA members on different competitive-balance scenarios.

Personally, I think the system is about as fair as it's going to get in high school sports.

The fact the system effects public schools who allow for open enrollment students as well as private schools shows the OHSAA is trying to make a commitment to fairness.

I've been around high school sports long enough to know, however, that for some, full separation of public and private schools will always be the goal.

This debate has been going on for decades in the OHSAA. The first vote regarding separation of public and private schools took place in 1978. It failed, as did one in 1993, but the numbers kept getting closer.

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In 2013, full separation was again set to go to the OHSAA ballot -- only to be withdrawn before voting started.

There is resentment -- if not outright hostility -- from some public school coaches and parents toward private school programs.

No amount of wrangling for the OHSAA is going to change that, which is a shame.

I went to elementary and middle school in Bedford, before going to Trinity in Garfield Heights for high school. I've seen both sides of this argument.

Do some programs at some private schools benefit from unrestricted access to student-athletes? Of course.

Saying the advantage is universal, however, discounts all the great public school programs in Ohio.

It also discounts the fact that, for every private school dynasty, there's probably three to four private school programs experiencing the same up-and-down public programs endure.

I would state that the primary driver of school success in high school athletics isn't school choice or "recruiting." It's socio-economic class, followed closely by coaching ability.

It will take much more than a new OHSAA playoff system to overcome that.

The new system's biggest flaws to me are simple.

First, consider that the OHSAA's two largest dynasties are untouched by competitive balance.

Cincinnati St. Xavier boys swimming (38 state titles) and Lakewood St. Edward wrestling (34 state titles including dual meets) still compete under the old non-multiplier systems.

Does this mean sports like wrestling, swimming, cross country, track and others don't warrant the same level of attention as the big team sports regarding level playing fields?

My take is simple. When it comes down to it, competitive balance is really about one sport: Football.

The second flaw is much more fundamental.

If giving all its members the ability to compete for state titles has become the prime focus of OHSAA, high school sports in this state are in deep trouble.

There's a growing list of obstacles to getting kids to play high school sports. Pay-to-participate fees, devices and video games, mounting academic pressure and teenage jobs are just a short list.

Shouldn't the OHSAA be trying to help its members increase participation at the bottom end of the high school sports system rather than focusing on the top?

What's more, the participation-limiting factors hit hardest among poorer school districts.

It is fair to say a school like Youngstown East has the same disadvantage as a school like Solon when playing against private schools?

I'd argue the competitive balance gap is far wider between public districts with high poverty and those public districts better off than between well-off public districts and private schools.

These are issues that no amount of OHSAA tweaking is going to solve.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, though: This is still high school sports.

It would be nice if the focus was off state titles chances and on getting more kids to simply come out and play.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

Facebook: MLeonardRPC

Twitter:@MLeonard_RPC


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