Competitive balance: Badin baseball questions fairness of move to D-I

The annual Badin-Hamilton prep baseball showdown will take place May 5 in a Saturday night game at Big Blue’s Stang Field.

Two days later, the stakes could be a lot higher for the local rivals in a Division I sectional tournament opener.

That’s right. Badin, Division III in 2015 and D-II the last two years, has been bumped up to D-I in the new world of competitive balance within the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

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“A lot of people said this would never happen … don’t understand how this could happen … but here it is,” Badin coach Brion Treadway said. “We’re embracing the opportunity. Crying about it’s not going to get anywhere, so we’re going to get better and do everything we can to prepare our guys to take on this challenge.”

Competitive balance is a hot-button issue that’s heating up in Ohio prep circles.

It started with a group of Northeast Ohio public-school administrators upset about the disproportionate number of state championships being won by private schools. That has led to a system of competitive balance for tournament divisions that adds enrollment figures to schools depending on where students come from.

The biggest Division I schools aren’t affected by competitive balance. It doesn’t matter how many multipliers are thrown their way. They’re D-I and will continue to be D-I.

It’s the smaller private schools who are bearing the brunt of it, though the publics aren’t immune. Open-enrollment and transfer students add competitive-balance numbers to the publics.

Seven schools are moving up to Division I in baseball this spring because of competitive balance. Five are private — Badin, Carroll, Toledo Central Catholic, Mentor Lake Catholic and Hunting Valley University School. The two publics are Franklin and Columbus Hamilton Township.

Akron Hoban was D-I last year and would’ve moved down to D-II this year based on enrollment, but is staying in D-I because of competitive balance. Chillicothe, Mansfield Madison, New Philadelphia, Whitehall-Yearling and Western Brown have moved up to D-I based on enrollment.

Badin will be the state’s smallest baseball school in D-I with a base enrollment of 227 boys — that number comes from grades 9 through 11 last year. The largest school in the division is Mason with 1,357 boys. So Badin vs. Mason in a D-I tournament matchup could certainly happen in the spring.

“That’s fair, right?” Badin athletic director Geoff Melzer said. “As it stands now, it’s a flawed system in my opinion.”

In Northeast Ohio, that may mean Lake Catholic (base enrollment of 310) vs. Mentor (963). In Dayton, perhaps Carroll (323) vs. Centerville (1,024).

So how did these Division I baseball newcomers get here? Here’s how competitive balance adds numbers to schools’ enrollment figures according to the OHSAA:

Rosters are collected from each sport annually and only affect that sport, and students are designated by tiers.

Tier 0: Each student on the roster meeting the criteria of this factor will be multiplied by 0 so that the number will always be 0.

Tier 1: Each student on the roster meeting the criteria of this factor will be multiplied by 1 so that the number will always be 1.

Tier 2: Each student on the roster meeting the criteria of this factor will be multiplied by the sport-specific factor. Baseball is 5 (football is 2, volleyball, basketball and softball are 5, and soccer is 6). This multiplier is determined by the number of divisions in each sport.

In determining tiers for nonpublic schools, it does not matter where the student and his parents currently reside. What needs to be asked is the following:

1. Has the student maintained continuous enrollment in the same system of education since seventh grade? If no, the student is designated as Tier 2. If yes, then ask: Did the student attend your designated feeder school since the start of seventh grade, and if the student did not enter the high school at the beginning of the ninth grade, has the student maintained continuous enrollment in the same system of education? If yes, the student is Tier 0. If no, the student is Tier 1.

Badin may have a base enrollment of 227, but its adjusted baseball enrollment with competitive balance is 386. The added-on number of 159 is the sixth-highest total in the state.

That number emanates from Badin’s 61-player baseball roster in 2017. By competitive-balance standards, 51 of those players were not “their own students.” And that’s where the consternation begins.

Under competitive balance, nonpublic schools can only choose one home school district, regardless of how many feeder schools they may have.

Badin chose the Hamilton City School District, meaning St. Ann, St. Joseph and St. Peter in Chains students count as Tier 0. Queen of Peace and Sacred Heart have been Badin feeders since the school opened in 1966, but now they add competitive-balance enrollment through Tier 1 because they’re not in the Hamilton district (Queen of Peace is Ross, Sacred Heart is Fairfield).

“The weird part is Queen of Peace is three miles away, it’s Hamilton, Ohio 45013, and they count as one additional student,” Treadway said. “We live in a unique area where we’re the only Catholic high school in Butler County. A Sacred Heart student in the eighth grade, there’s nowhere that student can go that he’s not going to penalize some school district.”

It’s a problem for practically all Catholic schools.

“A school like Carroll, from where we sit geographically, we draw from many small parish-type schools,” Carroll athletic director Scott Molfenter said. “But the problem is all our schools come from different school districts. It’s not a recruiting situation or anything like that, it’s just where are kids come from. Unfortunately, the formula doesn’t account for that.”

In comparison, Molfenter noted that Alter has a large amount of students that come from one Catholic grade school (Incarnation).

Lake Catholic athletic director Sam Colacarro isn’t thrilled by all the tenets of competitive balance, but he understands that public schools believe they’re at a competitive disadvantage against private schools.

He’s like Catholic administrators all over the state, though, in feeling that traditional feeder schools shouldn’t suddenly count against a private school.

“I’ve talked to (OHSAA Commissioner) Dan Ross and a few of the other people down there,” Colacarro said. “That’s something they’re considering. But there’s never going to be 100 percent approval of whatever you do.”

Colacarro said his biggest complaint is that grades 9-11 are used for base enrollment figures, but rosters in grades 9-12 are used for competitive balance. Students who have already graduated are included in base enrollment numbers for this year and next year.

“We use our numbers based on 9, 10 and 11 for enrollment, and I think we should use the numbers based on 9, 10 and 11 for competitive balance,” Colacarro said. “I’ve made my voice known about how they do it. But that’s just one voice.”

In Badin’s case, here’s the breakdown of the 61 players from last year’s baseball roster and how they’re designated in competitive balance:

• Ten students were Tier 0.

• Twenty-four students were Tier 1. Fourteen came from Queen of Peace or Sacred Heart.

• Twenty-seven students were Tier 2. Eight were seniors, three had parents who were alumni and three have since transferred elsewhere.

Melzer and Treadway have spoken with Ross, who has since announced that he’ll step down as the head of the OHSAA in September, about their concerns with competitive balance.

“I asked about where they come up with the plus-5 for baseball. Football is plus-2,” Treadway said. “One of the answers we got was, ‘Well, there’s not as many players in baseball, so the roster sizes aren’t comparable.’ In reality, our baseball roster is very close to, if not greater than, our football roster.

“I know it’s not normal, especially for a non-Division I program, to have that many kids in the baseball program. A lot of Division II and III schools don’t field a freshman team. We just find ourselves in a very baseball-rich area.

“I think we’re an outlier in this whole process. We’re the smallest school in Division I, and outliers happen. They didn’t want to do anything to rectify it, so they said, ‘Good luck.’ ”

Melzer said he’s talked with Ross about several changes that could be made to competitive balance in four-division sports like baseball. Among the ideas Melzer supports:

1. Any student from a Catholic grade school, no matter where that grade school is located, should be Tier 0.

2. Instead of having private schools pick a home school district, use counties instead.

3. Cut Division I in half and then divide the remaining schools equally in three divisions, thus lessening the huge enrollment disparity between the top and bottom in D-I.

“To his credit, Dr. Ross emailed back and forth. He even stopped to visit the school earlier in the fall,” Melzer said.

Asked if Ross seemed sympathetic to Badin’s concerns, Melzer said, “I don’t know if you’d say sympathetic. I’d say he was open to our concerns. At the OHSAA’s spring meeting of the Southwest District, some of those things that we had suggested were on there as possibilities. But in the same breath, so were things like higher multipliers that other schools would like to see.”

Short of any changes to competitive balance, what can schools do to lower their enrollment add-ons? There’s talk of some schools cutting freshman teams or even making competitive-balance status a part of the decision-making process during tryouts.

Badin and Lake Catholic, for example, have freshman baseball squads that neither school plans to eliminate. Carroll doesn’t have a freshman team, though Molfenter said the school would consider adding one if there’s enough interest.

And the idea of making roster decisions based on an athlete’s feeder school?

“You don’t want it out there that you’re not welcoming kids to your school because they don’t come from a particular feeder,” Molfenter said. “If that gets out there, you’ll start losing kids left and right. That wouldn’t make sense.”

On the public side of this issue is Franklin. Athletic director Brian Bales said open enrollment and homeschool kids are the reasons for the Wildcats’ rise to Division I baseball this year.

“We have 352 boys and, to me, the discrepancy between the smallest school and the biggest school in Division I is where I struggle,” Bales said. “I don’t know how you can look at those range of numbers and see how that would make sense. I appreciate the state trying to come up with something to help make things more balanced, and I think there’s been some good to it. But the range should be consistent among all four divisions.”

He, too, has heard about schools that will limit participation to decrease their competitive-balance numbers.

“I’ve heard some coaches say if a kid’s on the bubble and he’s open-enrolled, they’re going to cut him,” Bales said. “That’s a terrible way to look at it, but I’ve heard of programs that are doing it. And that’s not why we’re in this education and coaching world.”

Of all the possible changes that could be made to competitive balance in baseball, switching to unbalanced divisions seems to be the one most likely to happen.

“Unless somebody puts a lawsuit on the OHSAA, that’s the thing I’m hearing is the most likely to happen, and I’d be all right with that,” Melzer said. “That would put us back where we belong in baseball. Enrollment-wise, we should be Division II.”

Bob Goldring, the OHSAA’s senior director of operations, was asked about the fairness of having a school with a base enrollment of 227 boys being in the same division with a school that has 1,357.

Goldring responded by quoting the guidelines of competitive balance and the fact that the OHSAA membership wanted them implemented.

As for any changes on the horizon, Goldring offered this:

“The general feeling is that it is too early to tell what impact competitive balance is having. We need more time to see if there are any patterns that are evident,” he said in an email.

“One item the OHSAA board of directors already approved at their last meeting earlier this month is disbanding the principle that schools can only move a maximum of one division from the division where their base enrollment would have placed them. So now schools will be placed into their tournament divisions based strictly on where their tournament enrollment (base enrollment plus competitive-balance numbers) places them.

“It appears that the OHSAA is moving closer to establishing a committee to look at our four-division sports to see if a formula can be developed, similar to football, that places a cap on Division I. No date has been set for when that committee will first meet or who will be on that committee. It’s also fairly certain that this notion will see many in favor of the idea and many against since any such proposal will impact schools differently.”

The one thing that makes Badin unique in the baseball discussion is that the Rams actually have a strong enough roster to compete in Division I. Treadway has 11 players who have already committed to play at the next level.

“If I were some of those big boys, I wouldn’t want Badin up there in Division I,” Molfenter said. “That’s an excellent baseball program.”

The Rams have a nonconference schedule stocked with D-I schools. That’s been a staple of the program through the years and part of the reason Badin has been so successful in the lower divisions.

“I haven’t been through the Division I animal yet, but nobody’s running from anything. That’s the coach side of me,” Treadway said. “On the other side, with my normal-person hat, I’m just not following the purpose of competitive balance.

“I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do on this end. Competitive balance is happening so coaches can look across the field or the court and know that they’re on a level playing field. Well, are we? I mean, at 227 vs. 1,300, are we on a level playing field? Just because a student chooses a faith-based education at Badin High School but attended a public school prior to this, now all of a sudden they count as five extra players? In what world does one player count anything more than one player? He can’t play five positions at once.

“Competitive balance came around because of the perception that nonpublic schools are out there recruiting and playing unfairly. I can only speak to what we do here at Badin, and we just don’t engage in that activity. There’s no secret pot of money laying around that we’re just handing out to players.

“I feel like nobody wants the separate public/nonpublic state tournaments at the end of the year. But I don’t think this is the answer. I keep hearing this is just the first step, and we’re going to make adjustments and things will get better. I’m going to put my trust and faith in that process and expect a better result.”

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