COLUMBUS, OH- The Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors and staff have been discussing expanding tournament divisions in several sports, Executive Director Doug Ute has announced. The OHSAA will hold statewide meetings in January to present data and gather feedback on the topic, which seeks to address the wide enrollment differences from the top to bottom of the current divisional structure. Changes could mirror the OHSAA’s current football model, which puts a smaller number of the state’s largest schools in Division I.
Of note, the proposal does not add any additional tournament games and would be expected to be a revenue neutral expansion. The Board of Directors could act on a proposal as soon as early 2024. The sports currently being discussed include the sports of girls volleyball, girls and boys soccer, girls and boys basketball, softball and baseball.
Currently, more than 200 schools enter the postseason tournament in some divisions to compete for a state championship.
“Almost since day one when I became executive director (in September 2020), many administrators and coaches have expressed interest in expanding tournament divisions in several of our sports,” Ute said. “As everyone knows, we have seven tournament divisions in the sport of football, so why not give student-athletes, schools and their communities the same, or at least comparable, opportunities to compete for a state championship in some of our other sports.
“The Board of Directors has been very supportive when discussing this, and I have been pleased that we seem to be on the same page and could possibly have a proposal in front of the Board in the very near future,” Ute said. He added that the OHSAA will discuss adding tournament divisions in other sports in the future.
While the OHSAA Board of Directors has not recently been asked to act on formal proposals specifically on expansion, the Board has heard proposals that addressed the enrollment disparity between the schools at the top to the bottom of Division I in both 2006 and 2019. The only modification the OHSAA currently has in place addressing that issue is in football, where Division I is comprised of the top 10 percent of schools based on enrollment and the other six divisions are divided as evenly as possible. Currently in the sports of baseball, basketball, soccer, softball and girls volleyball, the enrollment difference from the top to the bottom of schools in Division I is an average of 939 students, with highs of 955 in boys soccer (an enrollment range of 346 to 1,301); 954 in boys basketball (346 to 1,300); 944 in baseball (356 to 1,300) and 940 in girls volleyball (319 to 1,249).
The OHSAA has studied the number of tournament divisions and formats in other states and has found that several states, including many that have fewer schools, have more tournament divisions than Ohio. Other than football, the OHSAA has not expanded divisions in team sports since the 1980s. Ute also said that as many schools throughout the state have lost enrollment, the trend has been for those schools to leave their conferences or leagues and join ones that more closely resemble them from an enrollment standpoint. Placing schools into tournament divisions with those that have similar enrollments is one of the key elements that would be addressed by expansion.
“Our No. 1 goal is to do what’s best for the student-athletes,” Ute said. “We believe our member schools and their participants would support this. From a financial standpoint, we would not be playing more contests overall, we simply would be putting the same number of teams into more divisions. So, our initial thought is this would not have an impact on the OHSAA financially one way or the other.”
School administrators will be sent information on the statewide meetings in January, and the OHSAA will also continue to collect input from the various state coaches associations.
Any proposed changes in the number of tournament divisions would need to be approved by the OHSAA Board of Directors, as those guidelines are part of the OHSAA General Sports Regulations, not the OHSAA Constitution or Bylaws. Any changes to the OHSAA Constitution or Bylaws would require a vote of the membership.