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Researching Reclassification

The MHSAA was the first state high school association in the U.S. to divide its member schools into enrollment groups for season-ending tournament play. Over the years, in one form or another, all other statewide associations have done the same; and in more recent years, some have tweaked their systems to facilitate practical considerations of tournament administration or to address demographic or political shifts among their memberships.

Two forces have combined to bring increased attention to the participation of public and nonpublic schools in the same tournaments: 

  • First, as state associations expanded the number of classifications to provide more opportunities for their schools to experience tournament success, the percentage of nonpublic schools winning those championships has increased.  Nonpublic schools rarely won any championships at all before the expansion to multiple classifications and especially to the additional expansion in football classifications.  Public schools are not winning fewer championships today than years ago; they are merely winning a lower percentage of the championships now provided.
  • Second, as state governments have reduced funding to public schools, those schools have been forced to reduce support for their sports programs and more often make them pay-as-you-go, much like nonpublic schools have operated for years.  As pay-for-play and fundraising have been popularized in public schools, their “marketing advantage” over nonpublic schools has been diminished.

Often overlooked by those who call for separate tournaments for public and nonpublic schools is the fact that the majority of nonpublic schools rarely have had any success in statewide tournaments, and some have never had any success at all.  An occasional District championship and a rare Regional trophy is the reality of most MHSAA member schools, both public and nonpublic. This, and the fact that "multipliers" have addressed only nonpublic schools and not also select-enrollment public schools (magnet, charter, choice), explains why MHSAA study groups have rejected the use of an automatic enrollment multiplier for nonpublic schools which is now in use in about 10 states.

Acknowledging the flaws of a multiplier that is applied only to nonpublic schools, a few states have been working with a formula, applied to all schools, that reduces the enrollment figures used for tournament play based on factors that may tend to reduce the percentage of a school’s enrollment likely to participate in sports.  For example, there is limited evidence that students who are on free and reduced lunch participate at a rate that is 10 to 14 percent lower than other students; so this is a factor reducing schools’ tournament enrollments in two states.  A third state association looked at this and decided that the data didn't justify the effort.

Two other states have recently implemented a system that places schools in a classification for larger schools after they achieve a certain level of tournament success in the classification in which they would normally be placed.  Of course, critics of this type of system that address the “chronically successful” are quick to point out that this does nothing for the school which is successful in the largest classification and tends to “penalize” next year’s students for the success of the previous years’ teams.  Would it be right to force Ithaca High School into a higher classification in football in 2013 because it captured MHSAA titles in 2010, 2011 and 2012?  And what would be done with Detroit Cass Technical after back-to-back titles in Division 1 of the Football Playoffs?

About these topics nationwide, there is much talk, some action, and no consensus.

Posted in: Classification

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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 11,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 43 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on several national association boards and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center: for six years, and is past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He was selected to the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation in December.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has recently retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing. 

Jack and Peggy are passionate world travelers and have two grown sons: John, who - with his partner, Liliana Garces - are on the school of education faculty at Penn State University; and Luke, who - with his wife, Alison - are international school educators in Wuxi, China.