HCS & PARTNERS!
Commentary: "Tradition factor" a step in the right direction
June 22, 2012By Andrew Smith of Hancock County Sports
For 15 years, the Indiana High School Athletic Association has run class tournaments in all team sports.
And for 15 years, the system hasn't been close to perfect, showing a significant number of warts that have been needed to be knifed off.
The system was intended to "level the playing field" by giving small schools a chance to compete for state championships, rather than having the tournament dominated by schools with four-digit student bodies -- and especially the growing number of 3,000 and 4,000-student megaschools in metro areas.
It was a noble idea, but it always had one major loophole -- the ability for student-athletes and schools to easily manipulate the system by transferring "down" to private schools in lower enrollment classes to find weaker competition and, in essence, "buy" championships.
The IHSAA finally moved to begin closing that loophole, by creating the "tradition factor" or the "success factor." In essence, if a school either makes two State Finals appearances or wins a regional and a state title in a sport in successive years, it will get bumped up to the next-highest class. It also addressed one of its other major imbalances -- at least in football -- the ridiculous spread between the top and bottom of Class 5A, where 4,000-student megaschools Warren Central, Ben Davis and Carmel, compete with schools one-third their size, and had begun to dominate the class. One has to go back to 1998 -- the Rex Grossman-led Bloomington South team -- to find a school in the bottom half of 5A that even competed for a state title. Now, 5A will be split in half, creating two 32-team classes -- the megaschools in 6A, schools from about 1,500-2,500 in enrollment in 5A.
The football split in classes needed to happen, and something similar needs to happen in other sports, where the 4-class system can remain, but with a different distribution of schools, owning to the fact that there is a large enrollment spread in 4A, but very slight differences in the lower classes. One change could see the top 64 schools in 4A, the next 96 in 3A, and approximately 120 schools each in 1A and 2A.
But the biggest issue that needed to be addressed is the "tradition factor." Ever since the class tournament began in 1998 -- and the all-comers football tournament in 1985 -- schools in lower classes have been able to manipulate the system to their advantage and dominate. The manipulation of the system has been greater in recent years, as the influence of AAU and club teams has allowed potential future teammates to get together and plan where they're going to school -- and has allowed coaches with AAU and club ties, or ties to sports-specific academies -- access to players and the ability to amass super-teams. Note that the "super-teams" never are created at the 4A level, but at the 1A and 2A levels.
To quote the author Phillip Hoose, in his seminal work "Hoosiers: The Fabulous Basketball Life of Indiana," the old tournament "gave everyone a chance, but no one a handout." The new tournament gave handouts. Witness this year's Class 2A boys basketball title game, which featured a Park Tudor team led by a Mr. Basketball runner-up, but also featuring three more starters who are Div. I-caliber players, all of whom transferred in after their eighth-grade years, from Cathedral, Martinsville and Traders Point, playing a Bowman Academy team that makes no bones about being an AAU all-star team drawing from all of Gary -- and is so beloved in its home area, all of the other Gary schools refuse to schedule them.
That's one of several examples. There have been several class sports dynasties in classes smaller than the largest class (1A-4A in football, 1A-3A in other sports). Other than Sheridan football -- led by legendary coach Bud Wright -- and Washington boys basketball -- thanks in large part to a family that produced three 7-foot Mr. Basketballs, two of which will be lottery picks -- none have been from community-based public schools.
In football, four of the top five teams in state titles: Chatard (10), FW Luers (9), Cathedral (8) and Roncalli (8) are from non-public schools. None compete at the largest class. The only interloper is Sheridan, whose titles have mostly come during the Brett Law and Nick Zachery eras. Of the top 11 in state title game appearances, six are private/parochial schools, three are 5A megaschools (Ben Davis, Penn, Carmel) and two are former 3A/4A powers who haven't been serious contenders in nearly two decades (Hobart, Franklin Central). Seven of the eight participants in the State Finals in 2011 were from private or parochial schools. Go on down the line -- the dynasty is from charter school Muncie Burris, which didn't lose a tournament match for 14 straight years in the 2A draw. Also up there in title-game appearances are Michigan City Marquette -- 11 of 15 years in Class A -- and Cathedral, which was a 3A finalist in three of the four years it competed in that class before moving up. In girls basketball, Fort Wayne Luers (9 title-game appearances in 15 years), Heritage Christian (5) and FW Canterbury (4 in the last 5 years) have built powerhouse programs. In baseball, Lafayette Central Catholic (4 straight titles) has dominated, and 1/2 of the state finalists this year were from parochial schools. In boys hoops, Park Tudor has played in the State Finals three straight years, Bowman Academy twice in three years, and two of this year's three smaller-class state champs were from non-public schools.
There are a few reasons for this. One is the "deadbeat factor" -- essentially, private, parochial and charter schools don't have to take everyone who walks in the door, and can eliminate students who don't participate or are bad apples. The entire student body has self-screened itself before applying, therefore giving the school a much higher rate of athletic participation. So, a private school's 1,000 students might see 80-90 percent participating in an extracurricular activity. A public school's 1,000 students might see 60 percent, meaning that for every 100 athletes who go out for the private school's football team, the public school will likely have 60. It is this reason why the Hoosier Heritage Conference proposed a multiplier several years ago, one that should have passed (and one that had popular support until lawsuits were threatened).
The other is the "AAU factor." It's a whole lot easier for a group of AAU teammates to amass at a nonpublic or non-boundaried school than it is for them to show up at a community school. Not only that, but the nonboundaried schools are more likely to compete in 1A and 2A, and be able to have comparatively light competition on the way to the State Finals -- facing one or two tough games against teams with a Div. I-caliber athlete instead of the four or five one might have to face in a 4A tournament. It's easier to stack a team and win. Vouchers and the growing prevalence of charter schools makes this significantly easier, as one can jump schools on the taxpayer's dime, rather than having to do it on their own.
Both of those have created an imbalance in the tournament that the IHSAA has needed to address. With the scepter of moving up a class and having a tougher road to face in the future, this will hopefully curb the athletes' school-jumping and "trophy shopping." Also, the schools who engage in such practices will not be as likely to have the "handouts" they've been able to take advantage of in the past by being forced to face tougher competition.
Will this affect any Hancock County schools? Possibly -- Mt. Vernon's girls basketball team would get bumped up in 2013-14 if it goes back to the 3A State Finals next year. New Palestine's baseball team would be similarly bumped up, but only if it drops in enrollment to 3A (which isn't likely) and wins the 4A state title next year. But, in both cases, it's likely both schools will be 4A in all sports to begin with, so there wouldn't be a bump.
While I'd like to see the IHSAA continue to address a multiplier that is based on the difference between athletic participation rates at non-boundaried and community schools (in my example above, 90% participation in nonboundaried schools vs. 60% in community schools going out for sports would yield a multiplier of 1.5), combined with the tradition factor, this is a start. Six classes in football is another start. Realigning the basketball tournament to put fewer schools in Class 4A and more in 1A and 2A would be the next step.
Indiana has some of the best high school athletic competition in the country. A few tweaks would make our already-great tournaments even greater.
Who would move up?
Who is in danger of moving up next year (2011-12 state champs move up with a regional title in 2012-13; state runners-up move up with a semistate title in 2012-13; regional champs move up with a state title in 2012-13). The "bump" would be for the 2013-15 two-year classification cycle in that particular sport.
Baseball: Western (3A), Nortfield (2A) and LCC (1A) move up with a regional title. Brebeuf (3A), Ev. Mater Dei (2A) and Shakamak (1A) with a semistate title (and Roncalli-4A if its enrollment drops it into 3A). Bellmont, Greesnburg (3A), Hebron, Park Tudor (2A), FW Blackhawk and South Central (Harrison) (1A) move up with a state title.
Boys basketball: Guerin Catholic (3A), Park Tudor (2A) and Loogootee (1A) move up with a regional title. Norwell (3A), Gary Bowman (2A) and Rockville (1A) move up with a semistate title. Evansville Bosse, Mishawaka Marian (3A), Clarksville Providence, Tipton (2A), Edinburgh and FW Canterbury (1A) move up with a state title.
Football: Cathedral (4A), Chatard (3A), FW Luers (2A) and LCC (1A) move up with a regional title. SB Washington (4A), SB St. Joseph's (3A), Ev. Mater Dei (2A) and Scecina (1A) move up with a semistate title. Leo, Columbus East (4A), West Lafayette, Corydon (3A), Bremen, Guerin Catholic (2A), Sheridan and Linton (1A) all move up with a state title.
Boys soccer: Fort Wayne Canterbury moves up with a regional title. Ev. Mater Dei moves up with a semistate title. Bethany Christian, Argos, Guerin Catholic, Lawrenceburg, Heritage Christian and Greencastle move up with state titles (note: soccer is 2 classes, has a 2-game regional and 2-game semistate. Final 8, rather than the final 4, win regional in each class).
Softball: Andrean (3A), South Putnam (2A) and Auburn Lakewood Park Christian (1A) move up with a regional title. Edgewood (3A), Adams Central (2A) and Lutheran (1A) move up with a semistate title. Yorktown, Woodlan, SB St. Joseph's, Lebanon, Boonville, North Harrison (3A), Tipton, Carroll (Carroll), Rochester, Union County, South Knox, Switzerland County (2A), Pioneer, LCC, Cowan, West Washington, Shakamak and Tecumseh (1A) all move up with a state title. (note that softball has a one-game regional and two-game semistate, so the final 8 are regional champs, rather than the final 4 as in other classes).
Girls basketball: FW Concordia (3A), Ev. Mater Dei (2A) and FW Canterbury (1A) move up with a regional title. Mt. Vernon (Hancock) (3A), FW Luers (2A) and NE Dubois (1A) move up with a semistate title. Madison, Western (3A), Triton Central, Seeger (2A), Southwestern (Shelby) and Riverton Parke (1A) move up with a state title.
Volleyball: Yorktown (3A), Wapahani (2A) and Wes-Del (1A) move up with a regional title. Chatard (3A), Eastern Greene (2A) and Seymour Trinity Lutheran (1A) move up with a semistate title. Andrean, SB St. Joseph's, FW Concordia, Edgewood, Jasper, Brownstown (3A), Wheeler, FW Luers, Southwood, Ritter, Union County, Clarksville Providence (2A), FW Blackhawk, Frontier, Washington Twp., Hauser, Loogootee and Clay City (1A) move up with a state title. (note that volleyball has a one-game regional and two-game semistate, so the final 8 are regional champs, rather than the final 4 as in other classes)
Girls soccer: Clarksville Providence moves up with a regional title. Mishawaka Marian moves up with a semistate title. FW Concordia, West Lafayette, Argos, Ev. Mater Dei, Lawrenceburg and Indianapolis Covenant Christian move up with a state title. (note that girls soccer has a two-game regional and two-game semistate, so the final 8 in each class are regional champs. Soccer has a 2-class format).