Attorney: Roger Bacon, GCL Coed not trying to pull the plug completely on competitive balance

CINCINNATI – The attorney representing the Greater Catholic League Coed Division and Roger Bacon High School said the lawsuit against the Ohio High School Athletic Association is focused on the Tier 1 component of the Competitive Balance Plan and not intended to dissolve other aspects of that measure that was passed in May 2014.

"We're not trying to pull the plug on competitive balance completely," Cincinnati-area attorney Terry Coates said. "...We're aiming at that Tier 1 multiplier in saying that we really we should not be penalized for receiving our students from our traditional Catholic feeder schools. They're in the Catholic system. We shouldn't get those Tier 1 multipliers applied against us."

Roger Bacon and the GCL Coed - the co-plaintiffs - have been granted a temporary restraining order against the OHSAA after filing a lawsuit that challenges the competitive balance measure that was passed as statewide referendum item in May 2014 and implemented during the 2017-18 school year. The OHSAA has 817 member high schools.

This is the first formal legal challenge to the competitive balance measure in Ohio. Coates said he wasn't surprised this is the first legal challenge to the OHSAA's Competitive Balance Plan, but he hasn't spoken to other member schools outside the GCL Coed regarding this issue.

"I think people are waiting to see what happens," said Coates, who is representing Roger Bacon and the GCL Coed. "There is a lot of interest in this around the state. The private schools are very interested in the result that we have."

The case was filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Civil Court Wednesday. A temporary restraining order was granted Wednesday by Judge Robert P. Ruehlman.

The TRO said the "OHSAA's conduct in enforcing and applying Competitive Balance against Roger Bacon and the GCL Coed schools without ever considering whether a school's team was competitive in the first place and then penalizing the GCL Coeds schools for enrolling students from Catholic Feeder Schools that have historically sent students to the GCL Coed schools is arbitrary and capricious."

Coates said the co-plaintiffs reached out to the OHSAA in early August and asked for an appeal hearing on Aug. 16. "They told us no," Coates said.

Coates said the co-plaintiffs wanted to exhaust every avenue in order for resolution.  

Coates said the OHSAA then said the co-plaintiffs could meet with the competitive balance committee this fall but nothing was formally organized. He also said the co-plaintiffs have heard the multipliers for competitive balance may increase.

Coates said the lawsuit was filed Wednesday in order to be ahead of the start of the football, soccer and volleyball seasons to avoid other arguments. Soccer starts Aug. 17, volleyball Aug. 18 and football Aug. 20.

The court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) ruling was specific to the Tier 1 factor and specifically to Roger Bacon and the other members of its league. OHSAA member schools voted in May 2014 to have the competitive balance process apply to all member schools, both public and non-public. The measure passed by 88 votes in May 2014 (411-323).

“We were advised this afternoon of the court’s TRO,” OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass said in a statement Wednesday. “Although the court’s ruling was specific to one conference, the OHSAA is an organization that emphasizes treating all of our member schools fairly and consistently, so we will work diligently with our staff, Board of Directors and general counsel to determine the best course of action in light of the TRO.”

The GCL Coed and its member schools are challenging the content and application of the OHSAA's competitive balance measure because, according to the Archdiocese, it unfairly discriminates against non-Division I Catholic schools by penalizing them for enrolling students from the Catholic feeder schools from which they have received students for decades, without regard to the historic level of success of a school's athletic teams. 

None of the GCL Coed members voted for the Competitive Balance plan passed in 2014, according to the verified complaint from the co-plaintiffs. The verified complaint says "implementation of competitive balance has strayed from the language that was originally passed by the OHSAA member schools in 2014."

Essentially, competitive balance has been put on hold in Ohio for the next two weeks. The next court date is at 1 p.m. Aug. 28 in Hamilton County.

"The current status is that competitive balance has been put on hold pending the permanent hearing,"  said Mike Schafer, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

The ruling has no affect on regular season schedules or contests, however the OHSAA had already announced the tournament divisional breakdowns for 2018-19 using competitive balance for the sports that it affects – soccer, volleyball, football, basketball, baseball and softball.

Volleyball, soccer and football divisional breakdowns were announced Jan. 22. Boys and girls' basketball divisional breakdowns were announced in April.

The Competitive Balance Plan adds factors to school enrollment figures that are based on the residence of students on rosters of public school teams and the educational history (feeder schools) of students on rosters of non-public school teams. Enrollment figures are combined with the competitive balance factors to generate a tournament enrollment number for each school before they are assigned to an OHSAA post-season tournament division.

"The Archdiocese, the GCL and Roger Bacon (are) in favor of the idea of competitive balance but we don't believe that the way that this is being implemented arrives at that," Schafer said. "In fact, it sort of institutionalizes competitive imbalance." 

Roger Bacon has students from 36 different Catholic schools, according to Schafer. 

"Those are all schools that have been sending kids to Roger Bacon for decades," Schafer said. "So there is no sense of athletic recruiting in the fact that Roger Bacon gets kids from 36 schools even though that wouldn't be typically the case for a public high school who might get their kids from one or two large middle schools. But, that's just not the way the Catholic school system works. Kids who go to Catholic grade school that predominantly want to go to Catholic high school - they are selecting from one or two Catholic high schools. And when you only allow the school to earmark one of those as a feeder school you may be only earmarking - I don't know - 15 percent or less of your total students. So every other student that you get is counting in a weighted amount. The net effect of this is the school and its sports teams are sort of arbitrarily moved up a level regardless of whether they've even been competitive at the level they're at."

In addition to Roger Bacon, members of the GCL Co-Ed Division include Alter, Dayton Carroll, Fenwick, Purcell Marian, Badin, Chaminade Julienne and Archbishop McNicholas.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati issued this statement Wednesday:

“Athletic competition is an important part of high school education. Student athletes learn the values of hard work and team play. These values are reinforced and rewarded when a team achieves at least some level of success on the court or playing field. That is why we support the concept of competitive balance, wherein all teams at a given level have a reasonable chance of winning.

However, the Ohio High School Athletic Association's "competitive balance measure" results in just the opposite. In fact, it institutionalized competitive imbalance by forcing small- and medium-sized schools to play against schools much larger in size. The application of a competitive balance measure that does not consider a school's previous level of competitiveness is misguided. Enforcement of competitive balance penalties against these smaller schools significantly reduces their opportunity to compete, thereby eliminating the joy and educational value inherent in healthy high school athletics.”

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