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States Debating Private School Involvement in Public Sports Leagues

In Texas, Oklahoma, and Ohio, the debate about how to accommodate private school students in public school sports leagues has been raging on during legislative sessions this year.

The Texas Senate passed a bill in early May that would have allowed private school students to join the public University Interscholastic League, except in basketball or football. Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston said excluding football and basketball from the bill was critical for its passage, as most of the opposition came from coaches in those two sports.

As it turns out, those concerned about the bill may have their fears assuaged, at least for this coming year. The bill "missed an important midnight deadline to be considered by the House" last week, according to the Dallas Morning News. Unless Sen. Patrick, the bill's author, can attach it to another piece of legislation, the bill is "likely dead."

In Ohio, a referendum to change the way private and public schools get assigned to playoff divisions in eight sports recently fell by a close (332-303) vote. Currently, schools' football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball, and softball teams get placed into Ohio High School Athletic Association divisions strictly based on male and female enrollment figures.

The new proposal suggested a more complicated formula, developed by a Competitive Balance Committee. The formula started with traditional enrollment, added boundary factor (how schools secure students) and a four-year tradition of success factor as ways to add to enrollment, and schools could potentially lose enrollment for a socioeconomic factor (the number of students who participate in free-lunch programs).

"We believe this would have been a fairer way to assign schools in team sports to their tournament divisions," OHSAA Commissioner Dan Ross said in a press release.

Approximately 17 percent of the OHSAA schools are private, yet a study showed that 43 percent of the state championships in selected team sports were won by private schools between 1999 and 2010, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

And in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association board of directors approved a proposal last month similar in nature to the recently defeated Ohio referendum, according to The Oklahoman.

The proposal, like Ohio's, focuses on how schools' sports teams get assigned to divisions. Under the new plan, a school would be eligible to move up a class if it met three of the following criteria: having selective enrollment, being within a 15-mile radius of a Class 5A or 6A school, having less than 25 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch, or whether the school's enrollment increased by at least 50 percent in the past three years. In total, the state has 18 private schools, according to the paper.

If a school does meet three or more of those criteria, athletic success will be used as the final determinant as to whether a school will or won't move up in classification (any team moving up will have had to finish in the top-eight teams in the state in more than two of the past five years).

One noteworthy part of the proposal: boys' and girls' basketball, soccer, cross country, and track will get lumped together, according to the Tulsa World. That means if one gender's team is ready to advance a class, both the boys' and girls' teams would get bumped up together.

That particular clause drew some ire from school administrators in the state.

"The association is supposed to be there for the kids," Heritage Hall athletic director Rod Warner said to The Oklahoman. "If one team is 28-0 and say the other gender is 0-23, how is it fair that the 0-23 team has to move up when it cannot compete in the class it is already in?"

The OSSAA will now send the proposal to all 484 member schools for a vote, with hopes of implementation for the 2011-12 school year.

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