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Competitive balance referendum finally achieves state passage

By JAMIE BAKER
for the review times
After this week’s victory on a competitive balance referendum, Ohio High School Athletic Association commissioner Daniel Ross can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
With the passage by a 411-323 margin of a referendum item voted on by the OHSAA’s 820 member school principals between May 1-15, a new push to split postseason tournaments between public and private schools is unlikely.
“I would love to say that I am absolutely sure this would put an end to the push to split the tournaments. From the group that has been pushing the petition to split, they said if this passed, they wouldn’t be pushing the split from that area of the state,” Ross said. “They said they want to see how this works.
“We’re not supporters of a separate tournament. We don’t think it’s good for the kids of Ohio. The fact is we have a plan, we have a starting point and we need to make this better. Hopefully, we won’t have that push again to separate.”
Competitive balance referendums, which aim to correct a perceived imbalance, particularly between public and private schools in Ohio and specifically in the football playoffs and post-season tournament play, have been voted down by the state’s high school principals each of the past three years.
A 2011 proposal based on enrollment, tradition and socioeconomic factors was defeated 332-303. The following year, a similar proposal lost by a 339-301 margin. Last year’s competitive balance plan, voted on by the OHSAA’s 823 member schools during the organization’s referendum period last May, was defeated 327-308.
Proposals to split the tournaments between Ohio’s public and private schools were soundly defeated in 1978 and 1993.
“Was I nervous? Yes. Was I hopeful? Yes. But I felt pretty good about the feedback we got from our town hall meetings this spring and there were 1,100 of them that attended those meetings,” Ross said during a teleconference with media from around the state on Friday.
“We really tried to educate people this time and we did a lot of listening before we put this proposal together, and I’m not sure the first time we tried this we listened very well. But we feel like we crafted a plan that will help competitive balance in the state.”
The new rules will change the way schools are assigned to tournament divisions for the first time in the century-old organization’s history. It will also change the landscape of high school sports in Ohio.
It will require schools to provide the OHSAA with team rosters of student-athletes in grades 9 through 12 as well as additional residential background information about each student. Students in public schools will be subject to modifying factors if their parents do not reside in the district or if the student has not been open-enrolled in the district since seventh grade. Additionally, students in non-public schools will be subject to the same modifying factors if they did not attend that school’s designated feeder school continuously since seventh grade or have not been continuously enrolled in the same system of education.
The OHSAA will add compliance officials throughout the state to help schools through the process and to make sure the new rules are being followed. The compliance officers — retired athletic directors, principals and superintendents — will receive a small stipend and passes to attend OHSAA events.
“It’s not a gotcha kind of thing, it’s more that we want to try and keep schools out of trouble,” Ross said of adding a compliance staff.
Schools that make an honest mistake in reporting the wrong residency status of its student-athletes will face a fine. Schools caught purposefully reporting wrong enrollment residency status for its athletes could ultimately be banned from postseason play.
Another key selling point to schools was that the competitive balance formula can only be changed or adjusted by a vote of member schools, which was a new wrinkle in this year’s proposal. In previous versions, the OHSAA’s Competitive Balance Committee would have been able to make changes to the new system.
The new rules won’t have much of an impact on a majority of area schools, as their enrollments are small enough that any changes wouldn’t move them up a division in the team sports. It could affect schools that are on the enrollment bubble and bounce back and forth from the smallest and next-smallest division, such as Carey, Patrick Henry, Mohawk, Columbus Grove and Bluffton in some sports. The rules will likely also impact schools with large open-enrollment numbers such as Hopewell-Loudon, which has more than 300 open-enrolled students in the district.
A total of 14 of 15 items on this spring’s OHSAA referendum ballot were approved. One item that would fine schools for not returning a referendum ballot, is a virtual tie. There were a handful of outstanding ballots that had not yet been counted that could swing the vote on that issue either way.

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