The Ohio High School Athletic Association is currently touring the state to meet with athletic directors about the possibility of adding divisions in girls volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball and softball.
OHSAA members were at Princeton High School on Tuesday, Jan. 30, to meet with the Southwest District’s athletic directors. The meeting at Princeton was the second of six forums that will take place between Jan. 29 and Feb. 9.
Here is what you need to know about Tuesday’s meeting.
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The current and proposed models
Currently, sports that have 200 member schools or less participating only have one division and sports in which 201 to 450 schools participate have two divisions.
Sports in which there are 451-700 participatory schools (boys and girls soccer) have three divisions. Baseball, boys and girls basketball, softball and girls volleyball have four divisions because each sport sees more than 700 schools field a team each year.
The OHSAA studied interscholastic models from many states that have fewer member schools but more divisions than Ohio. It ultimately settled on the following proposal.
The number of divisions for the seven sports would still be based on the number of schools that field a team, but the range would be smaller. There would be one division for every 100 schools. For example, girls soccer currently has 517 member schools, so it would expand to five divisions. If a sport has 700 or more schools participating, it would cap at seven divisions, which would apply to baseball, boys and girls basketball, softball and girls volleyball.
There have been discussions about expanding track and field and cross country, which currently have three divisions each, but they are not included in this proposal because they are considered individual sports. They will be discussed at some point.
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When it comes to alignment, Divisions I and II would each have 64 schools while each of the remaining divisions would have an equal number of schools (about 130). The gap between the largest school and the smallest school in each division would shrink as a result, meaning schools would compete for state championships against similarly-sized opponents.
Executive Director Doug Ute noted that the easiest thing to do is remain at four divisions (three for soccer) and that he is not ready to recommend expansion to the board of directors, but it is a member-driven initiative and an open discussion.
How expansion affects the member schools
The most notable changes would be to the postseason. With expansion, teams may no longer see neighborhood rivals in the postseason, or teams that they are used to competing against for state titles.
Travel also became a concern at every level of the postseason. Under expansion, the East and Southeast districts would not have any schools in DI and DII and would have fewer than 10 teams in DIII. This would cause them to combine with neighboring districts for the sectional and district tournaments. Despite the challenge, the OHSAA is working to limit travel and continue having “backyard games”.
At the state level, Ute said having a total of 14 state semifinals in one location is not feasible. The OHSAA is looking at replicating the soccer state tournament, where the semifinals take place around the state. To do this, the state semifinals would re-bracket and be held at neutral sites that are a reasonable driving distance for both schools.
What the athletic directors are saying
Ute has gotten feedback on expansion since he was hired in September 2020.
Not one AD has said he or she wants to expand so their school can win a state championship. They simply want to be competitive and have the chance to win a sectional or district championship.
Ute has also heard concerns about whether expansion would water down the competition. His response was based on his own experience. He has seen the joy on the faces of football players as they accept the state championship trophy.
Marion Local High School, which is northwest of Sidney, Ohio, has won 14 state championships. Ute, who lives in that part of the state, said the sign listing all the titles does not have a qualifier that says the titles were won in DVI. They know that they are state champions, regardless of division.
Should Ute continue to receive positive feedback as the OHSAA tours the state, he will bring expansion up to the board of directors in February. If expansion is approved, the board would then have to vote to change the regulation that says each division must have an even number of schools. That vote would take place between May 1 and May 15.