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Friday, Oct. 13, 2017: UPrep loses appeal over tournament classification

   Leading off today: University Prep in Rochester has lost its latest appeal over the way Section 5 and the NYSPHSAA determine playoff classifications for charter schools.

   In a decision rendered last week and cited Thursday at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association's Executive Committee meeting in Troy, the commissioner of the New York State Education Department ruled against UPrep largely on procedural grounds but noted that the school would not have otherwise prevailed in its dispute with Section 5 and the NYSPHSAA..

   Coincidentally, the Executive Committee voted 18-4 on Thursday in favor of creating an oversight committee to review decisions my sectional classification committees on where to place non-public and private participants in postseason competition. (More below)

   The ruling had not yet been posted to the NYSED website as of Friday nmorning. But in her decision, NYSED commissioner MaryEllen Elia wrote that Section 5's "inclusion of charter schools in its annual classification review is rationally related to their proffered reason that this is done in order to 'level the playing field.'"

   The dispute began last fall when the sectional classification committee summoned UPrep founder and President Joe Munno to a review of the boys basketball team's status in light of the recent arrival of three transfer students with varsity experience. UPrep, which would have been in Class B if placement was done by enrollment figures, was then moved from Class A-2 to Class AA.

   After the school appealed unsuccessfully to Section 5 and then the NYSPHSAA, Munno took the matter to Elia's office in the beginning of January and sought to have the team placed in Class B, contending that charter schools have more in common with public school districts than with private schools.

   Munno said last night that he would consider one final appeal to the Board of Regents. However, the procedural issues cited by Elia would be a significant obstacle.

   More UPrep: The Section 5 classification committee and UPrep administrators may want to invest in teleconference software as a way to save time. They've been seeing a lot of each other and will likely continue to do so.

   At a meeting last week, the committee moved UPrep's basketball team from Class AA to A-1, the second-largest class in the section, on the basis of the school having lost its two best projected returning players. But minutes of the meeting show that the committee reserved the right to move UPrep back to AA if one or both of those players returns to the roster.

   One of the players in question is obviously senior Jeenathan Williams, who is enrolled in a California school and playing for a team there. The other would seem to be junior low-post standout Jabez Thomas -- except that Thomas has been seen in at UPrep this week despite speculation he'd enrolled at Northeast College High School in Rochester.

   "We'd want to be in 'AA' but I wouldn't concede that to the committee," Munno said. "We'd have a better chance in that class."


   My first reaction upon hearing that the classification committee was reserving the right to change its mind during the season was, "Have they learned nothing from past experiences?"

   Section 5 already danced this dance in 2014 when it tried to move the Bishop Kearney girls basketball team in mid-January and was hit by a barrage of protests from other schools within a day. The section ultimately had to repeal the decision. (Read the details here.)

   As I tweeted earlier in the week, thinking it would be proper this time just because you've issued a warning that it can be done is just begging for chaos.

   And what if Williams miraculously returned over the holidays, got in the required practices but only had time to appear in five games -- not enough to make him eligible for the postseason? Would Section 5 move UPrep up to Class football site

AA when he played his first game Feb. 1 and then drop the team back to A-1 on the eve of sectionals because he wasn't eligible.

   Sorry, but this is flat-out crazy.

    • In other actions last week, the committee restored Aquinas boys basketball to Class AA based upon updated information from the school, and Northstar was moved from C-1 to B.

   In softball, Bishop Kearney's girls softball team has been moved up to Class B for next spring on the heels of its NYSPHSAA champion- ship in Class C.

   Thursday's vote in Troy: The newly approved oversight committee on classification decisions will meet in advance of each of the sport seasons and be chaired by NYSPHSAA Exec- utive Director Robert Zayas. President James Osborne will appoint a representative from each of the five enrollment classifications along with a sixth member from a non-public or charter school for two-year terms.

   The panel will review sectional classification committee decisions, but it does not have the power to make changes. Instead, it can kick a decision back the section and ask for additional information and reconsideration. (My column this week for the Press & Sun-Bulletin gives a couple of examples of what the thought process would have looked like for a couple of cases this year.)

   The 18-4 vote (the dissenting ballots were from Sections 3 and 4, by the way), concluded a process that started in November 2015 when superintendents of suburban school districts in Monroe County wrote to Section 5 and the NYSPHSAA seeking to remove non-public schools from postseason competition.

   Section 5 was already examining some sort of "dual path" system that would have moved private schools into their own tournaments. The idea ultimately died, in part because it would be too complicated in some sports and situations to integrate the private-school qualifiers back into the state's playoff system.

   The NYSPHSAA took up the issue in July 2016 with a special meeting shortly before its annual Central Committee meeting. Two sub-committees were formed.

   The first pondered adding one or two new sections overlayed upon the existing 11 sections. The new section(s) would have consisted exclusively of the NYSPHSAA's non-public and charter members, and their champions would presumably advance to state competitions alongside the reps from the other 11 sections.

   After meeting multiple times, however, they determined that they faced too many financial, logistical and legal concerns to make it worth putting a plan to a vote.

   The other sub-committee was responsible for what was approved Thursday. They formulated the outline of what was ultimately approved fairly quickly and then discussed the idea repeatedly as sectional and state Executive Committee meetings over the past year.

   More later: I've got quite a bit of other news to catch up on this morning and afternoon. There'll be at least one more blog later Friday.

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