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Wednesday, May 3, 2017: Combined teams issue on NYSPHSAA agenda

   Leading off today: As I mentioned over the weekend, the agenda for Friday's NYSPHSAA Executive Committee meeting in Troy is heavy on discussion and information items but relatively light on matters culminating in a vote.

   Keep in mind, however, that items being voted on Friday got their original airing to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association membership as discussion and informational items at previous sectional and state meetings. That means that Friday will be a step toward bringing many of the agenda items to a vote at July's Central Committee meetings.

   In terms of impact throughout the state, No. 1 on that list of discussion items is probably the proposal to revise the graduated scale used to calculate enrollment figures for schools that combine forces in a team sport.

   The graduated scale was approved by the Executive Committee in January 2013 to help schools at risk of dropping particular sports due to low participation. It has indisputably preserved participation and has in several cases bought time for schools to beef up their individual programs so that they could return to going it alone in that sport.

   However, it's also led to concerns by the NYSPHSAA membership about the creation of "super teams" formed when two or more squads combine forces. In many cases, the combined enrollment figure under the graduated scale hasn't bumped the schools up to a higher class for sectional and state tournaments. In fact, the stronger program in a potential partnership often will not go forward with the process if it means moving up to a higher class.

   A NYSPHSAA survey conducted over the winter saw five of the 11 sections categorize themselves as dissatisfied with the current system. Two were neutral and four were either satisfied or very satisfied.

   The proposal on the table calls for:

   (1) Counting 100 percent of the enrollment if four or more schools combine forces; and

   (2) Ramping up the percentage of school BEDS numbers used in the calculation when two or three schools combine.

   Currently, the graduated scale is 50 percent in Class AA, 40 in A, 30 in B and C, and 20 percent in Class D. The percentage is applied to the BEDS figure of the smaller school(s) involved in the consolidation.

   The proposal up for consideration calls for using 100 percent of enrollment for Classes AA, A and B. The percentages for Classes C and D would be 40 and 30 percent, respectively.

   In the survey, Sections 1, 2, 4, 7 and 9 voiced support for the proposed revisions. Sections 6 and 10 supported less drastic (but still significant) changes.

   A few numbers driving the discussion:

    • Ten sections (Section 4 data wasn't available) reported a total of 80 sectional championships earned by combined programs over the most recent three-year period.

    • In the 2013-14 school year (the first with the graduated scale), the Jamesville-DeWitt/Syracuse CBA boys hockey team was the only combined squad to win an official NYSPHSAA title or place second. Pittsford boys swimming won an unofficial team crown.

   By 2015-16, the number of official top-two finishes grew to three (boys bowling champ Sachem, boys soccer runner-up Elizabethtown-Lewis/Westport and girls lacrosse runner-up Pittsford). Additionally, Pittsford topped team scoring in girls swimming, Half Hollow Hills won in boys swimming, four schools combined for the girls alpine top honor and Pittsford was second in boys alpine skiing.

   There was a similar trend toward rapid growth by combined teams for the lower rungs on the awards podium -- six top-eight finishes in 2012-13 vs. 22 last school year, as calculated from results we use to compile the annual NYSSWA Kerr Cup All-Sport Championship.

   End of the line ahead? A NYSPHSAA committee began shaping a plan last July in which the organization's private and charter schools might be moved out of their existing sections and placed into two newly formed geographic sections.

   The committee formed to look at the concept for Sections 12 and 13 had its roots in the flare-up in Section 5 nine months earlier as superintendents from most of Monroe County's public school districts sought to have private schools ousted from sectional tournaments. Though it wasn't as much a hot-button issue in other sections, there was enough interest in studying fresh ideas for a long-discussed issue.

   A somewhat workable framework has evolved from the committee's work, but there are still numerous questions to be resolved. The two representatives from each of the 11 sections are going to be asked Friday whether it's worth proceeding. A vote to move forward merely keeps the idea alive, with a vote that would approve actually making changes probably at least a year away.

   In no particular order, some of the hurdles to be overcome if the concept is going to evolve into a proposal that might some day go to a vote:

    • Some (if not most) charter schools are loathe to be lumped in with private schools in this particular debate, so litigation is a near-certainty. The private schools might also head to State Supreme Court.

    • The question of whether the NYSPHSAA has given the two sets of transfer rule revisions since October 2014 sufficient opportunity to be evaluated.


    • Would travel be an undue hardship for schools in these massive new sections spanning five or six existing sections?

    • Will the existing sections be impacted financially?

   The NYSPHSAA's legal advisers, insurance carrier and governmental relations liaison have expressed concerns with creating "non-public" sections, and an active appeal by University Prep in Rochester to the State Education Department over how it is classified in boys basketball could scuttle everything.

   For what it's worth, I thought last summer that the concept for two new sections had a lot of potential and a lot of hurdles to overcome. Based on what I've heard from a variety of people in the past couple of weeks, I'm ready to declare it dead.

   We should know soon whether the Executive Committee feels likewise.

   More action items: Glens Falls is all but certain to retain the girls volleyball final fours for 2018-20 over two other bidders, and Middletown will retain the boys soccer semifinals and finals for the same three-year period. There were no competing bids submitted for soccer.

    • The Executive Committee will be asked to approve a drone policy aimed at assuring safety for players, officials and spectators during scrimmages as well as regular-season and postseason contests. While not a blanket ban, the policy would severely limit the use of drones.

    • The boys and girls swim committees are back with at least their third attempt to earn approval for crowning official team champions at the state meet. A subtle tweak in the wording to put the emphasis on the team competition aspect rather than the potential for coaches to receive national recognition may do the trick this time, though the Championship Advisory Committee reaffirmed its opposition last month.

   More discussion and information items: Girls soccer is hopefully moving towards resolving a fairness issue related to first-round scheduling.

   Historically, Sections 2, 3, 7 and 10 have played down to a single qualifier for the state semifinals. The first round has traditionally matched the Section 7 and 10 representatives against each other. But with Section 7 having not had a Class A team in eight of the past 10 years, Section 10 has wound up with numerous byes into the quarterfinals against the survivor of Section 2 vs. 3.

   The Executive Committee will get a look at what should be a final plan for the fair rotation of first-round byes. The girls soccer committee and the Championship Advisory Committee support the proposal.

    • Nearly three quarters of state associations across the country allow students who are ineligible under their respective transfer rules to practice during their period of ineligibility. That's not been the case in the NYSPHSAA, triggering occasional litigation and further punishing athletes.

    The NYSPHSAA seems headed to a vote in July to allow the affected athletes to practice with their new teams.

    • The committee will hear NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas say that the organization continues to have concerns about a proposal from the State Education Department to change the "duration of competition" rule. The original rule revision -- opening the door for many more fifth-year seniors to compete -- was widely panned, and the NYSPHSAA stance is that the revision intended to address concerns actually makes the regulation more broad in scope and difficult for schools to interpret.

    The State Education Department has generally been sympathetic to the NYSPHSAA in recent years. Another round of letters from school superintendents and other administrators may sway NYSED and the Board of Regents.

   Following up: The aforementioned blog from Saturday highlighted potential changes in classification cutoffs for football, cross country and girls volleyball.

   I mentioned that the sharp increase in the football line between Classes AA and A would have real implications for the largest class in 2018 if enacted. The NYSSWA's Steve Grandin did the math and came up with the following projections for Class AA:

Class 2017 teams 2018 teams
Section 1 20 17
Section 2 14 11
Section 3 13 11
Section 4 5 4
Section 5 13 8
Section 6 11 9
Section 7 0 0
Section 8 16 13
Section 9 9 7
Section 10 0 0
Section 11 28 24
   The above numbers include five private schools and one public school (Buffalo Bennett) that have been moved up by their respective sections. It doesn't account for the possibility changing enrollment numbers will move schools up from Class A (less likely) or down from Class AA (more likely).

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