From news partner News Channel Nebraska.
A potential NSAA rule change could force some of the state’s most successful high school sports programs to jump up a class.
Schools will soon be voting on whether or not to pass a success factor in the state of Nebraska. If passed, highly successful programs such as: Sacred Heart football and girls basketball, David City Aquinas football, Crofton girls basketball and BDS football, among other programs, could be forced move up a level of NSAA classification.
Executive Director of the NSAA Dr. Jim Tenopir, who has been in that spot for 11 out of the last 16 years, has heard grumblings about this issue for some time.
“This is a situation that is certainly not new, in fact it goes back a long way,” says Tenopir.
If passed, individual sports programs would need to accumulate 10 success points over a four-year period to jump a class. In order to receive a point, a program would need to get into the top eight in their class. A semi-final berth, or a 3rd-4th place finish, would give a school another point, advancing to the championship game or placing 2nd would give a school three points in total, and if you win a state title, four points would be given to the program for that season.
But that’s just the first phase of the success factor legislation.
Once a school reaches ten points, they can lose, or be given additional points, on a few other factors: percentage of students on free or reduced lunch, percentage of students in special education and a school’s proximity to a Class A school.
This portion of the legislation has particularly gotten pushback from non-public schools.
Superintendent of the Diocese of Lincoln, Msgr. John Perkinton, who oversees six Catholic high schools in the state, stands firmly against the legislation.
“I’m opposed to anything that would alter the level playing field,” says Perkinton.
Doug Goltz, who led Falls City Sacred Heart to sixteen combined state football and basketball titles, says while this is better than a previously talked about private school enrollment multiplier, it’s still not a good idea.
“These geographic and demographic proposals, more than anything, are an attempt to target the non-public schools,” says Goltz.
Both Goltz and Perkinton say they’d take on more special education kids if given state funding for the expensive special-ed programs.
They also would like to see more data about how students on the free or reduced lunch program, perform worse in sports.
“It almost implies that rich kids are better athletes than poor kids and I’d just like to see the facts that back that up,” says Goltz.
But Tenopir, who says the NSAA does not have a stance on this issue, believes non-public schools have a few built-in advantages.
“To some extent they can control their enrollment, to some extent they have advantages that others in their same classification to not enjoy, for instance we got some schools that can draw from what’s otherwise a Class A population. Where as other schools have a very finite population in which they can draw students,” says Tenopir.
Plattsmouth athletic director Shaun Brothers says his school is hampered by a more closed population and that he doesn’t feel as if the playing field is currently level.
“Big picture, we got to do what’s best for the kids in the state. Is it best for the same schools to win all the time, no matter what? Or do you want to have a system where it’s more fair? says Brothers.
There is little argument that private schools have dominated the landscape of high school athletics for some time. Over the past 10 years, in football, volleyball and boys and girls basketball, 50% of the 1st and 2nd place medals have been given to non-public schools, but those schools make up just 13% of NSAA member schools.
“I have not a position on this but it’s pretty tough to reconcile that you have non-public schools with that level of success, you can’t tell me it’s because they’ve got good coaching staffs or tradition or whatever,” says Tenopir.
So why do private schools succeed, when public schools do not? Tenopir says there’s many factors, including money.
“A student in a non-public school, more than likely their parents are having to pay tuition, if they’ve got the wherewithal to pay tuition, they probably have the wherewithal to get their kids to camps and clinics and what not,” says Tenopir.
Goltz cites the fact that many of the state’s great program from the past and present: Crofton girls basketball, Columbus Scotus volleyball, Howells football, have all had tremendous coaching and cultures of success.
“A lot of it is the culture, the program, the coaching, it’s the community, I think you can see that up and down the line throughout sports history in Nebraska high schools,” says Goltz.
Falls City Sacred Heart lost to the Howells football team plenty in the playoffs in the 2000’s and Goltz says instead of trying to find ways to avoid Howells, he tried to make his program better.
“I didn’t try and figure out ways to eliminate them from being our competition, I tried to work harder to find ways to beat a team like that, says Goltz.
This issue has managed split many athletic directors and high school administrators in the state of Nebraska. On the first vote in November, half of the six districts in the state voted in favor, while the other three districts were against the measure.
While almost every private school in the state is against the proposal, the public schools are split.
“A school like Plattsmouth, it would be good for us, in terms of balancing the playing field a little bit,” says Brothers.
Co-head football coach at Bruning-Davenport/Schickley Mark Rotter, has led his team to a state championship in 2015, and deep into the playoffs in 2014 and 2016, he says BDS built their program through a strong lifting program, something that can be replicated at any school.
“We lift like crazy, we work all year around. So the message would be, you work real hard and are successful so we’re going to make it tougher on you by moving you up?” says Rotter.
Rotter also fears the wrong group of student-athletes would be the ones that have to play at a more difficult level.
“You’ve got a great bunch of seniors that walk out the door and it’s the next year’s bunch that would be pushed up a class, yeah I don’t understand it all,” says Rotter.
A success factor system has been implemented by several other states across the country. Tenopir worked at the National Federation of State High School Associations for five years and says other states have tried something similar.
“There are other states, Indiana, Oklahoma, Connecticut, who have gone down the road that Nebraska is looking at here with a success factor,” says Tenopir.
The next vote on the proposal will be at district meetings on Wednesday, January 11th. If the majority of the districts pass it, then it will move on the a final vote in General Assembly in March.
Tenopir believes, regardless of the vote, people will always be clamoring for change.
“If our membership does nothing, theres going to be the continuing concerns that there are those schools that are successful and they’re successful because they’ve got inherent advantages over other schools. If it does pass, we’re going to constantly hear that those schools that get bumped up were cheated because they did all the right things to be successful,” says Tenopir.