New AHSAA competitive balance ruling has local coaches baffled
By Tim Gayle
An Alabama High School Athletic Association task force charged with finding a competitive balance between public and private schools in the organization presented several options to the AHSAA Central Board of Control, which voted in a new system on Thursday morning that will move successful sports within schools to a higher classification based on their success.
The task force recommended keeping the 1.35 multiplier, a formula that originated in Alabama in 1999. Since then, other states have followed suit (which most abandoning the idea) but AHSAA officials gave the task force the option of making no additional changes, raising the multiplier, kicking private schools out of the organization, giving them their own classification or implementing what they call a “competitive balance factor.”
The Central Board, on the recommendation of the task force, approved the final option for 2018-2020, a move that will have an impact on three of the five local private schools.
For AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese, the private vs. public issue is a land mine that found its way into a proposed bill in the Alabama Legislature last year. Do nothing and run the risk of having someone outside of the organization make decisions for you. Do anything and run the risk of alienating the private schools.
“That’s why we formulated a committee of half public (schools), half private,” Savarese said. “Because the private schools had to buy in to this. The (Central) Board said we were making a change. When we brought the change to the task force, this (competitive balance factor) was the plan they thought was the fairest of all. (The task force) was split between public and private and all of the private school (representatives) voted for this. While there is no perfect system, this is a place to start.”
The competitive balance factor judges the postseason success of each private school’s athletic department, with each sport receiving a point for reaching the quarterfinals (or a fifth through eighth-place finish), two points for the semifinals (or a third or fourth-place finish) and four points for the finals (or a first or second-place finish). Add up the last three years and if the sport earns more than six points or more than 11 for combined girls’ and boys’ participation such as tennis, basketball or soccer, they move up one classification in that sport.
For those schools that already have a 1.35 multiplier attached to their enrollment, the additional burden of being penalized for having successful programs did not draw a favorable response from many of the private school coaches.
St. James coach Jimmy Perry previously coached at St. Paul’s Episcopal, who along with Madison Academy are the two football programs that will be elevated one classification in 2018 because of their success. Perry also coached Robert E. Lee to the state finals in 1999.
“I understand the idea that if you’re dominating, you ought to move up,” Perry said, “but if you’re dominating, why doesn’t every team that dominates move up? Why is it just the private schools? What’s good for one is good for everybody. And what do you do to McGill-Toolen? They’re already 7A, so you’re not even penalizing all of the private schools.”
Savarese said the competitive balance factor went through several tweaks with the task force and the Central Board. Initially, they settled on four years of data to determine the competitive balance factor before changing it to three. They also considered applying it to every school.
“That was discussed,” Savarese said, “but right now, the task force decided to start with this approach, to evaluate it and analyze it every two years.”
Alabama Christian coach Chris Goodman routinely has his softball program challenging for a state championship annually in Class 4A but enrollment figures landed the private school in 5A in 2014-15, where it failed to reach the state tournament one year and was quickly eliminated the second year. He understands what moving a team up in classification because of its success can do.
“I don’t care for it,” Goodman said. “Most of the time in softball and baseball, the two sports I’ve been involved with, (you have a great season) when you have those dominant pitchers and most of the time they’re around for a year or two and that can get you put up a classification and then they graduate.
“How do you punish kids who were not on those championship teams? How is that fair? I also don’t understand why that rule only apply to private schools. If they’re going to do that, let’s get it consistent across the board.”
Central Board president John Hardin, the athletic director at Hackleburg High, said he hasn’t heard any negative feedback from the proposal.
“Some of them are wait and see, but for the most part everybody is on board with it,” Hardin said. “I think everybody says this could work. I haven’t had any negative (response) to any of it. There are a few questions from some schools, but for the most part everybody is pleased with it.”
Savarese said changing the multiplier – which appears to be a sensitive subject among private school administrators – was considered after studying the public vs. private relationship in other states. Some, such as Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Tennessee, rely on separation of private schools. Some, such as Missouri, rely on a multiplier. Others, such as Illinois, Nevada and Indiana (which is nearly identical to Alabama), utilize a success formula.
“Some of our (Central) Board members were on the Competitive Balance Task Force,” Savarese said. “Three of (the five options) were not considered by the task force. The board had instructed me years ago that we needed to adjust the multiplier. And as we looked at it and studied other state associations, our job as an association was to bring the data back to the task force. The task force started to analyze it and they saw that we’ve always had a competitive balance factor. What’s our competitive balance factor been all the time? It’s been 1.35.
“Instead of raising it to 1.85 or 2.25, we adjusted it based on the areas that were having more success. It was unanimously approved and our committee was both private and public, half and half. I was on the task force previously and they couldn’t come to a consensus. This was the first time that everyone came to a consensus.”
Currently, 25 of the 51 private schools are elevated one classification with the 1.35 multiplier, but only one school is elevated two classifications. With a 1.85 multiplier, 36 schools would jump up in classification, with 20 moving up two classes and three moving up three classes. With a 2.25 multiplier, 40 schools would be affected, with 14 of them moving up three classifications.
“We have private schools that are not located in the high-density areas,” Savarese said, “and for some of the private schools, raising their multiplier would have egregious consequences. This way, the task force was addressing the schools that because of their resources have more advantages and, consequently, are more successful. Doing an across-the-board competitive balance of 1.85, we could have done more damage than good.”
The competitive balance formula will only move qualifying private schools one class from the previous classification and only in the sports that reach the threshold. In the new classification, average daily membership numbers would continue to be used to establish classification placement, with the 1.35 multiplier added to all private schools. The competitive balance formula would then move up a school to the next classification (from the class in the previous classification) only for the sports where the threshold is reached.
After the competitive balance factor is implemented, single sports such as football, volleyball, baseball and softball will remain in the same classification if they earn two to six points in a three-year period, moving up if they earn more and down if they earn less. (Dual sports such as basketball, soccer and tennis are four to 11 points).
“Everybody will formulate their own opinion,” Savarese said. “Some people will say the task force didn’t recommend enough; some people will say we did too much. I think only time will tell. But we had to start somewhere. If it needs an adjustment, there will be an adjustment, but it will take time.”