New proposals made to level playing field in Illinois sports

Friday, November 18, 2005

Proposals will be discussed as a replacement to private-school enrollment multiplier tossed out by courts.

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- Nearly a dozen proposals have surfaced to settle a dispute over leveling the playing field between public and private school sports teams, a divisive issue that landed the Illinois High School Association in court this fall.

Proposals from IHSA member schools range from restoring an enrollment multiplier set to expire later this month under a court settlement reached earlier this month to banning multipliers altogether, according to documents posted on the IHSA's Web site.

Under the soon-to-lapse multiplier rule, private schools with enrollments of at least 450 students had to multiply their enrollment by a factor of 1.65 for purposes of placing them into classes for state championship tournaments.

The IHSA adopted the multiplier in March after critics complained private schools were winning a disproportionate share of state titles, but agreed to drop the rule to settle a Cook County lawsuit filed in September by 37 private schools.

Several of those schools were bumped from Class A to Class AA under the rule. They contend the multiplier penalizes teams for success and puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

Under the court settlement, schools had until the end of October to submit proposals to achieve competitive balance between private schools, which can draw student-athletes from up to 30 miles away, and public schools, with their tighter, locked-in geographic boundaries.

Along with multipliers, the proposals also include creating separate tournaments for public and private schools and moving schools up one class if they advance to the state semifinals for three straight years. The proposals also include letting private schools draw up their own geographic boundaries then set their enrollment based on 20 percent of public school students in that area.

The proposals will be outlined to the Bloomington-based IHSA's 751 member schools during 28 meetings around the state that began last week and conclude Tuesday. The IHSA's Legislative Commission will then decide Nov. 28 which proposals will go to a binding vote by members, required under the court settlement.

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said the 35 principals and athletic directors on the commission will likely pick just one proposal for a vote, based on comments at the statewide meetings. Schools will vote from Nov. 28 through Dec. 19.

"This gives our membership the opportunity to decide this issue, and I'm very much looking forward to having it resolved by a vote of the schools," Hickman said.

Some proposals would take effect Feb. 1, while others would not kick in until July 1, Hickman said.

More classes

A proposal to expand the IHSA's two-class system in some sports also is being presented during the statewide meetings, Hickman said.

The plan would create four classes for boys and girls basketball, girls volleyball, boys baseball and girls softball, under a proposal by the IHSA's board of directors. Three classes would be created in boys golf and boys and girls track and field.

Schools will vote on the proposal during balloting on multipliers, but results will be advisory rather than binding, Hickman said. If adopted by the IHSA board, classes could be expanded for the 2006-07 school year, he said.

Hickman said adding classes surfaced because of gaps between school sizes in the two-class system. He said the IHSA has 250 schools with 300 students or less competing against schools of up to 750 in Class A, while the smallest Class AA schools are matched up against schools with 2,000 students or more.

"I think there is some value to additional classes and it may also help with some of the other competitive issues we've had between public and private schools," Hickman said.

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