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Conversation with OHSAA Commissioner Dr. Ross

May 5, 2013
By DANA SULONEN - Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor ( , Tribune Chronicle |
From competitive balance, to adding a seventh division in football, to everyday issues around the state of high school athletics, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has plenty on its plate. Many of the issues the OHSAA?deals with daily are ones that affect the athletes of the Mahoning Valley on a regular basis. The commissioner of the OHSAA, Dr. Daniel B. Ross, Ph.D., talked extensively with the Tribune Chronicle about many of these topics. SULONEN: The decision to change the vote from public-private separation in the tournaments to the new competitive balance took many by shock, but how long was it in the works? ROSS: “I don’t know if it was necessarily ‘in the works.’ I don’t think the conversations ever really stopped between the (Wooster) group that had that proposal on and the OHSAA. I think it started to really gain a little bit of steam when we were making people aware about what some of the ramifications were going to be if there were a split and I think that especially when there were some indications that three of the sports — field hockey, hockey and gymnastics — might not have state tournaments.?If you’re only going to have nine schools or 17 schools that are non-public that have a sport, you’re probably not going to have a state tournament with that amount of schools. And if you’re not going to have it for the non-publics, you’re not going to have it for the publics. And so those sports would probably not be around. “I think when that information came out, I think the people who were the authors looked at that and said, ‘That’s not really something we intended by our proposal to separate. We really didn’t want to eradicate opportunities; we just wanted to separate the tournament.’ And so, that was probably the modus operandi for serious discussions about if there was another option out there that would be better than the option to separate. SULONEN: As you have gone around the state and talked with administrators, what have you gauged as the reaction around the state about the new proposal? ROSS: “I think most people understand this isn’t the answer. I think that most people understand that this is just the beginning of a journey to deal with the competitive balance issue. I think nobody believes this will be perfect. I think that most people believe this is a good start. A gentleman yesterday said to me, ‘Is it perfect? No. But it’s the best thing on the ballot we’ve had to vote on so far.’ ” SULONEN: Because the new competitive balance issue appeared quickly for the May ballot (it was introduced on March 23) and many were not prepared for that but were prepared for the separation of public and private schools in tournaments, do you think people are going to not vote because they do not feel as educated on the issue?? ROSS: “I would certainly say that it wouldn’t make any difference what anybody put on the ballot. Any time, there’s going to be people that are not confident about that piece. We’ve had a proposal on the ballot the last two years, and the two previous proposals had three parts to it. This one has one part and the one part is one of the parts that was on there before, the boundary factor. And so, this is much simpler to figure out. “I think there’s been two things that have come out that we would be willing to make changes down the road. We have a competitive balance committee that we would let them study everything – and that competitive balance committee is a group of school people. “Is everything perfectly set in stone? No. Because there are two things for sure that still needs some conversation. One of them is what will be the (multiplier) factor for soccer. It’s a three-division sport and for football the piece we are going to start with is two, and for basketball and the other four-division sports it’s five. But soccer only has three divisions and we don’t have enough rosters in order to be able to look at that to make a good determination. So the competitive balance committee will have to look at that. “And the other one is that if you’re not successful, what would be the absolute conditions for a waiver? We could have pulled the committee together to do that and then I would believe they would be in a hurry. But we have two-and-a-half years if this passes until it’s implemented, why not wait instead of rushing in to something … I made the comment to the group (in Newton Falls) that my recommendation to the committee is going to be that if a team that hasn’t won a league championship or a tournament game in two years (they would get a waiver). That’s probably very reasonable, I think, for most schools. Is there somebody out there who’s saying ‘if it’s not absolutely concrete, I struggle with that.’ Yes, there will be somebody like that. But I don’t want it to be concrete. I don’t want all of those pieces because I think we’re on a journey.” FURTHER EXPLANATION: Part of the competitive balance issue is a “waiver.” The waiver would be granted to a program that has had difficulties or has continually not performed well in its given division. If that team were to have to move up due to the competitive balance formula, the team can apply for a waiver to remain in the given division. SULONEN: If passed, the next two years will serve as a pilot period for schools to become acclimated to the new process. Because of this time frame, if there was something that needed adjusted, is there “wiggle room” so that way when it begins in 2015, the best possible competitive balance act can be in motion for 2015? ROSS: “I don’t think there would be a ton of wiggle room because for the most part, pretty much all of the pieces are in place. But, I would believe that if our schools, after we start running the pilots, said ‘Hey why don’t you think about this? Why don’t you think about that?’ Don’t you think we ought to give the committee the opportunity to think about it, especially if it comes from our school? I would say the answer is yes. But, I also know that the committee will be surveying schools to get feedback before they do anything, so everybody is going to have an opportunity for a lot of input into the whole process.” SULONEN: You’ve said in the past that compared to other competitive balance proposals, this might not be perfect, but this is the best proposal that’s been put on the ballot. Why do you feel that is the case and is this big step forward? ROSS: “I believe it will (be a big step). I believe it’s the most equitable. I think, from our perspective, we don’t look and at this from either a public or a non-public standpoint. We look at this as probably the fairest because it treats everybody the same. Now, fairness is always going to be in the eyes of the beholder, so there will be somebody who looks at this and will say that it’s not fair for this, that, or the other. But, I think of all the proposals we’ve had, and I’ve heard this from a lot of people as I’ve done my meetings, that they believe this is the most equitable piece we’ve had on the ballot yet.” SULONEN: Is there any “zero-tolerance policy” by the OHSAA for athletes that commit crimes or is that handled by the individual school district? ROSS: “Pretty much all is handled by the local board of education. We would not want to overstep the local board of education’s authority. On our end, we would work with and support any school district that needed that help. On our end, there is no tolerance for those type of activities, but that is the local board of education’s decision.” SULONEN: If it is proven that there has been any cover-up by coaches or the school at Steubenville in regards to the sexual assault case, would there be an OHSAA investigation or involvement? ROSS: “We probably would not, because I would say after the grand jury has made their recommendations to the prosecuting attorney, the prosecuting attorney would then submit that to the judge and probably through that legal system would be addressed. After all this is over, we might go to Steubenville and sit down with the superintendent after, because I think the proper way to do that is once the legal system has done it’s due, and you know where everything is going to shake out. Right now, everything is still an assumption. And in this country, we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. “I thought the judge handled the situation and the trial, I thought he handled that very professional. I’m sure if anything comes out of this the prosecuting attorney and the judge will do the same thing again.” SULONEN: I heard, and saw this year, some pretty questionable officiating in many sports. It also seems that the average age of officials isn’t going down for many sports. What is the current screening process and does it need to be reviewed in terms of officiating for all sports. Also, how do you attract a new generation of officials?? ROSS: “When officials start, they take a test and a class to get started. Most officials attend rules meetings throughout the year. Most of them in their local associations go through mechanics and rules clinics during the course of the year as well as a state and local rules meeting that they are responsible for. When they make it through into the tournaments they are evaluated. Some leagues and conferences do evaluations on officials, I don’t think all of them do. “Most of our officials, this isn’t their vocation, this is their avocation. They have work and then go and cover a game. Are they perfect? No. I believe for the most part, most of our officials do the absolute best job they can possibly do. They are knowledge about the rules and try to enforce those rules in a fair and effective way. (In response to getting younger officials involved): “Not a lot of people like to get screamed at. When I talk to groups of athletes, and they are seniors, and they are not going on to college to play, I say to them, ‘Why don’t you think about being an official? You know the game, you’ve played it, you can officiate it.’ They look at me and say, ‘Are you crazy? Why would I go out there for people to scream at me?’ “I think officials do love what they do and that’s why they put up with it. Can we get some younger officials? Yea, we would love to do that. We probably need to take a hold and say, when the sportsmanship is a little bit better, especially from the stands, the number of officials will probably go up because there aren’t an awful lot of people after a hard day’s work that like to go out and get called everything under the sun.” SULONEN: What do you feel that, as of today, what the state of athletics are in Ohio? ROSS: “Number one, I think high school athletics in Ohio are held in very high regard. I think it is one of the last facets of pure sports that are left. I think that one of the wonderful things about Ohio, our schools and athletics that I’m really proud of is that we are constantly willing to look to try to make what we do better. And I don’t think people can ask a lot more of you than that. I think that if you’re constantly trying to do better because if we make what we do better it’s going to help every child that participates and there is a lot of them who participate in this state. “We don’t sit and say that we have the best thing since sliced bread and let it go. No, we are constantly looking (to improve). We have a lot of wonderful of people, your readers, our media, our school people, our ADs, kids, parents, are always giving us input on how we can improve. We listen to that, doesn’t mean we always do it, but we always try to listen and if there’s something that we believe can do to make things better, we certainly try. “I’m proud of where we are. Do I believe we can get better? Absolutely. Do I believe the things that are on the referendum ballot on this year that our principals are going to tell us yay or nay on will help us be better? I do. We are constantly going to be looking on how we can work to get better. And when we stop that or become complacent with the status quo, that we’ve already hit the pinnacle and we can’t get any better, we just took our first step backwards.”


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