Lazerus: Pinpointing the parochial problem
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or email@example.com November 23, 2011 9:00PM
Lafayette Central Catholic's Jack Kendrick carries his team's regional championship trophy placard on the field after defeating the South Central Satellites at South Central High School in Union Mills, Ind., Friday, November 12, 2010. Photo by Guy Rhodes for The Post-Tribune. PTSPT
Updated: December 26, 2011 8:39AM
The way Bobby Cox sees it, the problem isn’t that seven of the eight schools playing in the Class 1A to 4A state football championships this weekend are Catholic schools.
It’s that four of them won state titles last year. And are, frankly, very likely to repeat.
“Let’s talk about what the problem is here,” said Cox, the IHSAA commissioner. “Actually, I don’t think it’s a problem. I think it’s an issue. And the issue is who’s winning.”
Cox — like just about everyone else in the state of Indiana outside of Cathedral, Chatard, Bishop Luers and Lafayette Central Catholic — wants to address the growing disparity and predictability in the state football tournament. And as commissioner, he has the power — and the intent — to pitch his own proposal at the Board of Directors meeting in April.
His approach is simple.
If you’re really, really good in a particular sport, you move up a class in that sport. The end.
Schools get a point for a sectional championship, two points for a regional, three points for a semistate and four points for a state title. Get 15 points in a two-year span — in other words, win a state title and a semistate in back-to-back years — and you get bumped up a class in that sport.
That’s it. No multipliers. No socioeconomic factors. No discrimination against Catholic schools.
(In other words, no expensive lawsuits, like the one Tennessee recently fought — and lost — when trying to become just the fourth state to have separate private school championships.)
“I didn’t hear a word about Andrean’s football team this year, because they lost to Wheeler in the first round,” Cox said. “But the years they won, it was all about how they were recruiting and all their advantages. It only becomes an issue when it’s private schools winning. But it’s not a private school issue.”
Cox’s proposal is sort of a drastically scaled-back version of the Indiana Football Coaches Association proposal that has yet to be officially discussed. The IFCA had a four-point plan to address the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots. It’s a good plan, a bold plan. But it only addresses football, which seems to be the only sport where this becomes an annual debate.
Cox wants to address every class sport — almost all of which have their perennial megapowers.
“The question is always raised when private schools have success,” Cox said. “I didn’t get one e-mail or one phone call when four public schools won the volleyball state championships a month ago. Now that we have seven of eight private schools in the four smaller classes of football, it’s an issue again. It really just comes down to there are a lot of folks that don’t like who’s winning these tournaments.”
Or how they’re winning these tournaments. Public school fans always raise the specter of private schools recruiting. Cox won’t deny it happens. And he won’t stop prosecuting it, either.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, they recruit students,” he said. “They don’t survive if they don’t recruit students. Now if they recruit athletes, we have rules in place to prevent that. And that’s the 50-cent question, are they recruiting students or are they recruiting athletes?”
Cox is currently wading through an investigation into a private school that sent out an e-mail flyer about an open house. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but the e-mail list the school used came from a local sports facility.
“That’s recruiting athletes,” Cox said. “If an e-mail list includes athletes and non-athletes, and band members and choir members and debaters and everything else, I don’t have a problem with that. But when they zero in on athletes, we have rules to stop that.”
Besides, the idea of boundary-free private schools having such an edge on public schools is a dated one. If a mom in Highland wants to send her kid to Munster, she can do so free of charge — as long as Munster accepts that kid. And what many people don’t realize is that the law changed a few years ago, so the $4,000 or so of tax money assigned to that kid follows him to Munster’s coffers, not Highland’s. So if a school has the room and the resources, it will gladly accept out-of-town students.
Throw in the proliferation of charter schools, which also can draw students from a vast area, and the private schools don’t have the same advantage they once did.
“If we do something about private schools, do we do something about charter schools?” Cox asked. “There’s going to come a day when they start winning more championships. Bowman already has one.”
So Cox is adamantly opposed to the idea of a multiplier. After all, not all Catholic schools are good at all sports.
“Why would you move Bishop Noll up in football when they can’t beat anybody — just because they won a basketball tournament?” Cox said. “They’re not winning in football, so why pick on them in football? But if you’ve got Cathedral winning state every year in 4A maybe they need to play in 5A. People will say I’m punishing success. No, I’m not. I’m allowing success to have an opportunity for greatness, to get better, to step up their game to the next level.”
The IFCA proposal also relies on a success factor, but requires far less success over a four-year (not two-year) span to get bumped up. Cox only wants to target the truly elite.
Cox is particularly bothered by the IFCA’s proposal to use what amounts to a reverse-multiplier on schools in poorer communities. Under the IFCA proposal, schools that have at least 60 percent of their students on reduced or free lunch plans would have 15 percent of the number of students on those plans deducted when determining classes.
Besides being another lawsuit waiting to happen, he said he and many of his member schools find it “offensive.”
“Let’s not insult young people by saying just because your socioeconomic status is below someone else’s, that you’re less than a full person,” Cox said.
The IFCA also pitched a sixth class for the 16 biggest schools in football and partially seeding the sectionals. But Cox’s primary concern is leveling the current playing field as much as possible.
And he thinks it can be done.
Well, that’s not true. He thinks it can be done better than it is now. So he plans to make his pitch to the IHSAA Board of Directors and its member schools this spring. And he thinks it’s got a very real chance of being adopted.
Not that it’ll shut anybody up, of course. That’s about as unrealistic as a public school winning a 1A, 2A, 3A or 4A state football title this year.
But hey, it’s a start.
“The issue is not solvable,” Cox said. “We’re not going to get to nirvana; there’s no way to get there. But we’ve been in class sports for 15 years now, and we’ve not changed from the day that we started. It’s an issue, and it’s time to address it, so let’s address it.”