A discussion that began 35 years ago but has gained more traction in recent years finally moved in a new direction May 16 with the announcement by the Ohio High School Athletic Association of the passage of a competitive balance proposal.
In each of the past three years, member schools narrowly voted down similar proposals that would have altered the way the OHSAA determines its postseason tournament classifications in eight team sports, including football and boys and girls basketball. School administrators throughout Ohio voted 411-323 in favor of the latest proposal, which takes effect in the 2016-17 school year.
While its impact might not be known for years, the "starting point," as OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross called it, puts his state in what he considers a unique position.
"I don't think any other states have done anything similar to this," Ross said. "(Other states) have a flat multiplier. This is probably the only one in the country like this."
The OHSAA always has used enrollment to determine the tournament division in which each of its member schools would compete.
However, because of a perceived imbalance of state championships won by non-public schools, member schools voted on proposals to have separate playoffs for public and non-public schools in both 1978 and 1993. Each time the proposition was soundly defeated.
Proposals by the OHSAA to create an "athletic count" based on adjusted enrollment figures were voted down 332-303 in 2011 and 339-301 in 2012. Then in March 2013, a proposition that would have forced separate public and non-public tournaments was pulled in favor of another that centered on school boundaries, but that proposal was defeated two months later by a vote of 327-308.
The latest proposal, which had a voter turnout of 90 percent of OHSAA member schools, is similar in its base qualities to last year's but has been tweaked.
In addition to enrollment, it will have modifying factors that will be applied to students on each roster on a sport-by-sport basis and will be based on where the student's parents reside and/or the educational system history of the student.
"The group that was driving (separation of public and non-public postseason tournaments) said before that they'd drop that push if this passed," Ross said. "I'm really relieved because we're not supporters of separate tournaments. I think a lot of it is that we had to educate people."
The plan is expected to directly affect the enrollment figures for open-enrollment districts, non-public districts and non-public schools that don't have boundaries.
Each school annually will submit to the OHSAA through an online system its initial roster count in football, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball, baseball and softball for students participating in grades nine through 12.
Every participant on a team's initial roster count will be assigned a Level 0, 1 or 2 factor.
The factors for public schools are dependent on where the student's parents reside or if the student has continuously been enrolled in the district since seventh grade.
The factors for non-public schools are dependent on the school from which the student came, such as a feeder school or parish, or if the student has been continuously enrolled in the same education system since seventh grade.
On a sport-by-sport basis, schools will be limited to moving up a maximum of one division per year.
"When you talk about us here in Columbus, I can tell you that people at the Ohio High School Athletic Association have commented that if all of the Catholic schools throughout the state ran things the way we do in Columbus that we wouldn't have a problem," DeSales football coach Ryan Wiggins said. "We have districts that we abide by. Our model here in Columbus is pretty good. The schools that have advantages (in other parts of the state) are kind of ruining it for everyone. There's a heck of a lot of schools doing it the right way."
Hartley athletics director Pat Murphy said administrators at his school will study the issue over the coming months as they decide which among six feeder schools it will designate for the Level 0 factor.
"We're going to have to figure out which feeder-school kids will be a multiplier even though some have been in our district since preschool," Murphy said. "We'll be penalized even though they've been with us all along, and we're not happy about it. We'll have a choice to make regarding what school will be the (Level 0). For those who are Level 2 multipliers, those are kids that come from a public school or outside our area, and I don't have a problem with that. But we're not Cincinnati or Cleveland. We have districts in Columbus."
Public schools that aren't a part of open-enrollment districts such as Grandview likely will feel the impact secondarily since their initial roster numbers aren't expected to change much.
Grandview boys basketball and boys tennis coach Ray Corbett, who had coached at two non-public schools in Ready and now-defunct Wehrle, wonders what affect the new plan will have on participation numbers at non-public schools.
"When I was at Ready and Wehrle, I always heard the recruiting cry," Corbett said. "If I'm a coach at a private school, my freshman team just became a club sport. It's going to have an impact on the number of kids that are participating, and the (OHSAA) is about participating."
Public schools in open-enrollment districts such as Columbus City Schools could see a major shift in their initial roster count as well.
The Marion-Franklin football team, which was in Division III last fall, gets many of its players from its enrollment district, but it also gets some whose geographic boundaries are designated for nearby Columbus South through open enrollment.
"In (Columbus), it's hard because in eighth grade you can open-enroll," Marion-Franklin football coach Brian Haffele said. "This could hurt a city school more than it could benefit a city school. But when you get into the playoffs, you're going to play who you play."