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Ohio high school football competitive balance proposal narrowly voted down

A compromise plan to help assuage tension between Ohio's public and private high school athletic programs was narrowly defeated, but Athletic Directors aren't done pressing the issue, which may ultimately lead to a separate playoff system.

Currently, the division structure for Ohio's high school sports playoff system is set purely by attendance numbers. If you have X number of boys, you're in Division 2, if you have Y number, you're in Division 4, etc. This is a system that many athletic directors have argued gives Ohio's private schools – and large urban districts that have open enrollment polices – a substantial competitive advantage against the others.

A compromise plan had been floated that would add a multiplier effect for schools drawing students outside their district boundaries, which would in theory move many private schools up a division. This proposal has been narrowly voted down.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Despite the 327-308 setback, OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross said he will push forward in hopes of finding a solution to a perceived competitive advantage that private schools hold over their public counterparts.

It is virtually certain that yet another proposal and one seeking separate private and public tournaments will butt heads on the May 2014 referendum ballot.

“I knew the vote would be close, and I hoped it would pass,” Ross said, “but what this tells me is that we’re almost 50-50 on this issue. If that many people are unhappy with the status quo, this issue is going to continue to be on the table for a while.”

The conflict between public and private schools isn't going away. Smaller publics in particular have argued for years that a private school has access to a dramatically larger potential player pool than they do, by virtue of their selective enrollment and their ability to draw students from multiple geographies. Many private schools have countered that several public schools, especially urban ones, have similar advantages, and that the goal of "competitive balance" is nebulous, or impossible to achieve.

Columbus area private schools were particularly vocal about opposing the plan, as schools like Waterson and DeSales could theoretically be forced to make a substantial jump in Division to compensate for the fact that their students come from all over Metro Columbus. In Cincinnati, an area with an even stronger Parochial presence, the calls have been even louder.

Pushing for separate playoff systems isn't an unheard of idea – Texas does it, as do other states – but it is controversial. Many public school athletic directors have expressed concern over such a radical step, even if they're disadvantaged in the current system, because they want their student-athletes to be able to play the strongest competition. If the OHSAA and their member institutions are unable to reach some sort of compromise, however, and more Ohio private schools win state titles in high visibility sports, there may be more momentum for a more radical solution.

Ohio has enjoyed a reputation for producing a lot of very good high school football players, and radical shifts in the competition structure of high school athletics might potentially hurt that reputation a little. Of all the proposed solutions, including a controversial plan that would have added a multiplier based on "tradition", or the school's socioeconomic situation, some sort of population-based multiplier for districts with open enrollment, public or private, does appear to be the most reasonable.

Hopefully the state's athletic directors can find a way to make the math work, or they run the risk of damaging what has been a great pride of the state.