Ohio’s new high school sports divisions: How much change is fair?

The first two schools I looked for when the OHSAA announced divisional realignments were Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph.

Although only new divisions for fall sports were announced yesterday as part of the OHSAA’s new competitive balance initiative, this was on my mind because of the recently completed state basketball tournament.

» MORE DETAILS: Is your football team in a different division?

The Fighting Irish, alma mater of LeBron James, won the Division II title while VASJ (Clark Kellogg, Desmond Howard, the Golics, David Lighty) triumphed in Division III.

If you follow the basketball tournament, those programs are very familiar.

Kudos to the quality people they have hired and systems they have put in place to sustain excellence, but their being able to so frequently restock with not just college but NBA-caliber talent from anywhere while remaining in lower divisions is the most glaring example of what was wrong with the old system.

Time will tell how the new measures affect the basketball divisions, but we know now how the new football landscape looks.

The changes were subtle but important. I would rather not go far enough than too far, but something had to be done.

While I am the product of a small public school, I strongly oppose separating the two when it comes to state competitions.

I believe that would hurt both sides more than it would help anyone, and it sends a terrible message to kids that winning it all is the only thing that matters.

A state title is a great achievement, but it’s not a birthright. We should not upend the system just to try to create more even results on the last day of the season.

The sooner kids learn life is never going to be completely fair — no matter what well-meaning adults might try to do — the better, but I believe it is right to level the playing field at least somewhat.

“At least somewhat” would seem to describe the actual change created so far.

Those northeast Ohio schools I mentioned will be in the same football divisions this year they would have been anyway despite an increase in their enrollment figure by the competitive balance formula.

Meanwhile, area private schools Alter, Badin, Caroll and Chaminade Julienne all moved up one division because of the new math.

The fact of the matter is being able to draw from a larger area than nearby public schools to build a roster is an unfair advantage.

That doesn’t mean those teams don’t earn their success through hard work and sacrifice all through the year, but something had to be done both to placate the public school officials who have been threatening to take their ball and go home otherwise.

This approach is far better than a full public-private split, and it makes a lot more sense than previous attempts to alter divisions using factors including “winning tradition.” (That was ridiculous.)

While much focus on this issue has gone on the effect on private schools, I believe frequent transfers between public schools are an issue as well.

I am glad to see that addressed, although I admit it is a sticky issue. There’s no easy fix there.

Obviously, families are free to live wherever they want in this country. There are plenty of non-athletics reasons they might move, so there would be unintended consequences in sitting anyone who changes schools to try to discourage transferring.

And, honestly, it’s fair for a player to feel he or she might need a different situation to flourish athletically without necessarily being some type of mercenary hunting championships.

At the end of the day, there is only so much that can be done to make things “fair,” but this is a good effort.

I’ll be curious to see how it plays out — not to mention where various schools end up for basketball season.

About the Author