Are The Recent OHSAA Rule Changes Consistent With Its Mission?

By: Jim Lowther, Matt McGowan

Are the recent OHSAA rules changes consistent with its Mission? “The Ohio High School Athletic Association’s mission is to regulate and administer interscholastic athletic competition in a fair and equitable manner…”
The new rules treat cross country differently than the other 23 sports the OHSAA sponsors. For cross country, divisional assignment is determined by total co-ed enrollment. For all other sports, divisional assignment is determine by the single gender enrollment for that particular sport.
• Moving programs out of their natural divisions created competitive disadvantages for hundred of schools and thousands of student athletes
• Another issue with combined enrollment – does moving a natural Division III girls’ team up a division (because the school had more boys) while moving a natural Division I girls’ team down a division (because the school had fewer boys) provide a fair result when the natural Division III school must then compete against the natural Division I school?
• In one case, a boys’ team was required to compete in Division I (because of their larger girls’ enrollment), even though there were 64 schools in Division II with more boys,
• In the 2013 Boy’s Division II State Championships three teams including the top two teams should have been Division I if single gender enrollment was used to determine divisional assignment. All three teams had fewer girls allowing them to move down a division.
• As a result of combined enrollment creating disparities which would not occur if single gender enrollment figures were used (like all other OHSAA sports), there was one district 88% of the girls Division III teams qualified for the Regionals while in another district 25% of the girls Division III teams qualified for the Regionals.
• Is there a Title IX issue if a school does not have appropriate coaching for both teams (school did not add a coach when they started girls cross country). Is there a Title IX issue when a school says they don’t want to spend the money to send their girls to their appreciate “Normal” Divisional District assignment. The above two reasons were the main issues for a few schools to push thru combined enrollment even against the wishes of the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches.
Boys cross country and girls cross country are two different sports – Is it Fair and Equitable to treat cross country different than all other OHSAA sponsored sports?
(Note: A recent survey listed 110 girls in Ohio playing football – should combined enrollment be used in football as well?)
9 to be counted as a track & field team?
The OHSAA rules require there to be nine athletes on a track & field team for that school’s team to be officially recognized as a track & field team by the OHSAA. The OHSAA states that there are 703 boys’ track & field teams in Ohio in 2014, while the 2013-14 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations recognizes 788 boys track & field teams.
Last spring, a team with only seven athletes on its roster won the State Track & Field Championship, even though the team is not officially recognized by the OHSAA. If a team has fewer than nine athletes on the team but score in the Districts shouldn’t they also count as a team? Properly recognizing these teams could result in the necessity to add another division. Should a team that wins in the postseason not be officially counted as even being a team? Is this Fair and Equitable? (Note: There are 4 divisions for baseball with 776 teams and 4 divisions for softball with 761 teams).
Competitive Balance
It is a fact that phantom students will appear as part of a school’s enrollment starting next fall. This is because, if a school has more than one junior high feeding into its high school, the high school will have to choose its primary junior high. Student athletes coming from the other, non-primary, junior high will be counted as 2 students. Is this Fair and Equitable? Those schools that do not have official junior high schools, but have smaller K-8 schools instead, will be required to pick one primary “feeder school,” and all of the student athletes coming from the other, non-primary “feeder schools” will count as two students. Is this Fair and Equitable? Student athletes who move into a district or change schools, and who have not been a student at their primary “feeder school” since the 7th grade, will count as anywhere from 2 to 6 phantom students, depending on the team sport the student athlete participates in. Is this Fair and Equitable?
Charter Students Count or Don’t Count
Home schooled students have been able to participate in their local school’s extracurricular activities, including sports, for a couple of years. Charter and community school students were recently granted a similar right to participate in their local school’s extracurricular activities, including sports. At the beginning of the summer, those students who normally would have gone to their local school were added to that school’s enrollment figures. However, after the fall sports season started, the charter school students were removed from their local school’s enrollment. The result was that some schools were moved out of the division to which they were assigned earlier in the summer, thus changing divisional assignments after the season started. Is this Fair and Equitable?
Combined Enrollment for Cross Country
Combined enrollment was implemented for cross country for the 2013 season and renewed this summer for the next two years.
What is Combined Enrollment? To determine which division a school is in for cross country, the OHSAA adds together a school’s total number of boys in grades 9-11 and total number of girls in grades 9-11, and then divides the total by 2. The end result is used to place the school in a division. Obviously, this leads to the boys’ team and the girls’ team being placed in the same division for that particular school. But is that fair? Is it compliant with the OHSAA Bylaws?
Here is what the OHSAA Bylaws say about school divisional assignments:
OHSAA BYLAW 2 — CLASSIFICATION AND ORGANIZATION – Section 1 — Classification of Schools 2-1-1: Classification and representation to tournaments will be calculated every other school year. The classification will be calculated in a school year beginning with an even numbered year for use in the next two school years. Boys’ classification shall be determined by the total number of boys enrolled in grades 9-10-11. Girls’ classification shall be determined by the total number of girls enrolled in grades 9-10-11. Once the above number is determined, the divisions are divided equally based on the number of divisions.
So, how did combined enrollment happen? According to an OHSAA representative, who was responding to a RUNOHIO email last month, “The OHSAA has studied this situation for the last several years. There were many schools and coaches that said it was a burden to have their girls’ and boys’ teams compete in different divisions when it came to the postseason tournament. Coaches were forced to pick between teams, and schools paid travel expenses twice instead of once. Families also had to decide who would go to watch which child if they had a son and daughter competing at the same time in different locations.”
In April of 2011, the President of the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches stated their organization was against combined enrollment. The President stated that, the OATCCC Executive Board, through numerous discussions, concluded that “… it is quite clear though that our membership finds the idea of using a single divisional assignment for a school not in the best interest of the student-athletes and their coaches in the sport of cross country. Moving programs out of their natural division creates competitive advantages/disadvantages and does not solve the problem.”
Despite this, at the January 2013 Track and Field Coaches Clinic, OHSAA representative Brenda Murray stated, “A number of small school superintendents said they didn’t have two coaches and didn’t want to spend the extra money sending their cross country teams to two different sites for post-season competition.”
In November of 2014, at the cross country clinic, Dale Gabor, OHSAA cross country/track representative, stated that, “… a few small school superintendents in 2012 were behind the push for combined enrollment to be used for cross country.” He said, “a few superintendents didn’t want to spend the extra money to send one cross country team to one location and the other team to a different site.” It was pointed out by a coach during Mr. Gabor’s presentation that it seems that what a few superintendents are really saying is that they did not want to spend money to send their girls’ team to its appropriate post-season competition, but they seemingly had no problem spending money for preseason or exhibition games for a number of other sport teams. It was also pointed out that most schools do not compete in more than 10 meets, when schools are actually permitted to run in 16 meets during the regular season. Therefore, those schools should have the money required to pay for its team to compete in its appropriate and “normal” division’s post-season.
Unfortunately, while only a few seemed to get the combined enrollment rule passed, Mr. Gabor confirmed that a super majority of the coaches would need to vote to change it.
Note: The OHSAA has been studying the “competitive balance” issue for almost 10 years. A competitive balance proposal was voted down by the schools in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The fourth version passed in 2014. Yet, no vote by the schools was ever taken to change what many call a major change to the OHSAA Bylaws.
One of the main arguments in favor of combined enrollment is the avoidance of schools having a boys’ team and a girls’ team competing at different sites because they are in different divisions. A number of coaches suggested that the OHSAA could do a better job of assigning sites for teams in different divisions, thus alleviating the bulk of this concern. In addition, a question, with respect to parent issues, has the OHSAA ever moved a football game or any other event to alleviate this issue? It is doubtful that a football game has ever been rescheduled so that a family having a football player and a volleyball player could attend both games.
Here is another Bylaw which could help in dealing with the issue of having only one coach for both cross country teams…
BYLAW 3 — ADMINISTRATIVE RESPONSIBILITY AND INSTITUTIONAL CONTROL 3-2-2: “When a male coach is assigned to a girls’ team, an adult female (non-high school student) should be present at the contest. When a female coach is assigned to a boys’ team, an adult male (non-high school student) should be present at the contest.” Thus, if a school doesn’t have at least one person to represent each gender (one for the boys’ cross country team, and another for the girls’ team if the coach is a male), then that would seem to be a violation of the Bylaw, which should be a local school board issue, and might possibly be a Title IX concern.
How did combined enrollment affect post-season competition? From an informal survey RUNOHIO conducted with coaches, some like the policy but a majority thought cross country should be treated the same as the other 23 sponsored OHSAA sports which use single gender enrollment to determine a team’s division.
It has been pointed out in other articles that hundreds of schools and thousands of athletes were negatively affected by combined enrollment. The top 2 teams and another team that qualified for the Division II State Cross Country meet in 2013 most likely would have been in Division I if single gender enrollment was used. Both schools had fewer girls, thus allowing the boys’ team to compete in Division II. One school’s girls’ team would have competed in Division III, but because of the larger number of boys was required to compete in Division II. Another school in the same district race would have competed in Division I, but because that school had fewer boys, it competed in Division II. In that district race, the team that “should” have been in Division III ran against a team that “should” have been in Division I. Further, one school had 62% girls and 38% boys. Therefore, its boys’ team was forced to compete in Division I, though more than 60 schools with more boys competed in Division II.
From the OHSAA magazine: “The plan for adopting an additional division (in football) was in response to a concern by some OHSAA member schools about the enrollment disparity that exists in Division I, where the current range is 494 males at the lower end of the division to 1,164 at the top.” Based on current enrollment data, the lower end of Division I is expected to increase to 600 males. However, with combined enrollment, a school with only 269 boys was competing against a school with 1,164 boys.
A survey about combined enrollment was conducted last spring with coaches, athletic directors, principals and superintendents participating. When RUNOHIO asked about the outcome, one official from the OATCCC told me that a number of people voted numerous times, that the questions were biased, and the results were not scientific. A person from the OHSAA said simply, “the results were not available.”
A couple of recommendations to lessen the negative effects of Combined Enrollment:
1) Base divisional assignment on single gender enrollment – but allow a school to move either of its cross country teams (boys’ team or girls’ team) up to the higher division team so they can run together (but don’t force a school to move out of their “normal” single gender enrollment divisional assignment).
2) Hire a logistics professional to organize post season competitions in such a way as to reduce the number of teams that are scheduled in different geographical locations.
In A Nutshell
High schools with multiple “feeder schools” will have to pick one to be its main “feeder school.” Students on a sports team from its feeder school will not be added to the school’s enrollment. If a student comes from another feeder school where they have been a student since the 7th grade, he or she will count as 2 students for enrollment numbers. If the student has not been a student in another feeder school since the 7th grade, or if the student comes from a school outside the feeder school’s area, he or she will count as follows: 2 students for the sport of football, 5 students for the sports of volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball, and 6 students for the sport of soccer.
One issue with the above formula is that some non-public schools do not have junior highs, but instead have k-8 schools. On average, these are smaller schools (because most junior high schools have a number of feeder schools that go to a combined junior high). Thus, a school system like the Dioceses of Columbus, will be greatly affected since its multiple feeder schools are K-8.
Some have suggested school systems with only K-8 schools should open a school for 7th and 8th grade students. Some have suggested that schools might eliminate their freshmen or JV teams and replace them with an intramural program to avoid having those student athletes increase the school’s enrollment number. Competitive balance could also cause some teams to cut marginal players to keep the numbers down.
Charter Students Count or Don’t Count
The passage of Ohio House Bill 487 in July of 2014 now gives community school and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) school students the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities at his or her local public school. Since data from the Ohio Department of Education included the public school district where those students reside, the OHSAA decided in June to include those community schools and STEM school students in the enrollment counts of their local public school. For districts with multiple high schools, those students were divided evenly among the districts’ schools.
However, the OHSAA board of directors deliberated on August 6th and voted to remove students who attend community schools and STEM schools from their local public school enrollment counts, requiring divisional assignments have to be redrawn.
The OHSAA had already begun the process of forming a committee to study the issue. The committee will still meet this fall to determine the best way to include community school and STEM school students in enrollment counts in the future.
What do you think!?
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