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Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014: Sec. 5 changes its mind about Kearney ... again

   Leading off today: I sometimes question whether I go too easy on Section 5. Living in Rochester, the heart of the section, maybe I know a few too many of the key figures personally and cut them the kind of slack I wouldn't ordinarily give to administrators or coaches from, say, Section 1.

   It's undeniable that Section 5 does a lot of things very well. There's not a section out there that runs a tighter financial ship -- you can meet their entire payroll for more than two years with what some other sections pay just their executive director each year. Even with tighter budgets that go with not charging the schools (and taxpayers) dues, the boys basketball tournament is the gold standard other sections have strived for decades to match in terms of organization and operations.

   Behind the scenes, several veteran coaches and administrators have been fixtures at the state level as coordinators for their sports, putting in long hours for tiny stipends.

   Having said that, though, somebody (or several somebodies) screwed up really badly this week as arguably the section's biggest flaw -- how it deals with (or doesn't deal with) the classification of private schools -- was exposed for all to see.

   And to ridicule.

   In a complete reversal of a lesser reversal made just days earlier, Section 5 announced Tuesday that the Bishop Kearney girls basketball team is being restored to the smaller of its two Class B tournament divisions for next months sectionals.

   Kearney won the New York State Public High School athletic Association's 2013 Class C championship and then was moved up to Class B in the fall by the section's classification committee. That committee met again last week and decided Kearney belonged with the larger schools in Class B1 rather than in B2. The move was motivated by concerns some committee members had over the presence of a transfer student not considered during previous deliberations.

   The decision to bump up Kearney in midseason was unprecedented, which should have been everyone's first clue that it might not have been such a swell idea.

   (This would be a good spot for me to make an important point: Of all the people to blame for how Section 5 handles private schools in its sectional tourneys, the members of the classification committee are very low on the list. It would take at least another thousand words to explain here, but the rulebook/guidelines/suggestions/advice the section's hierarchy has given those dedicated and hard-working souls puts them in impossible situations.)

   Within hours of Kearney being moved up to Class B1, at least four schools lodged protests, the Democrat and Chronicle reported Wednesday. At that point, the section's Executive Committee had to throw up its hands and reverse course.

   "It's not that the committee was wrong," Executive Director Ed Stores told the paper. "We've never set a date on how late reclassification can take place (and) they did what they were able to do. Bottom line, had this information been available on Dec. 1, we probably wouldn't have said a word. We look at the date of this decision, the school affected and say, 'Nah, we can't do it.'"

   Trouble is, somebody needed to say, "Nah," before Kearney was moved from B2 to B1. Instead, Section 5 was exposed for being wishy-washy and lacking focus in dealing with probably the biggest red-meat issue in scholastics sports.

   As I tweeted Tuesday night, the NYSPHSAA is certainly culpable here, too. It's somewhere between sad and humorous that the state association can mandate that its schools only play 18 regular-season basketball games (Earth to the NYSPHSAA: The Great Recession has been over for at least two years) but does not have a blanket policy enforcing consistent classification of private schools from section to section.

   In the absence of a state policy, it's left for the sections to decide. And Section 5 has made some poor choices. Again, I could chew up another thousand words chronicling that, but I'll settle for two bits of evidence the system isn't working:

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   (1) Aquinas was moved up to Class AA in football in 2012 (and won the NYSPHSAA championship in 2013). Given that school's string of sectional Class A championships from 2006-11, the move was at least two years overdue. But sectional officials first got rattled by the threat of legal action, then couldn't quell the behind-the-scenes rebellion of Monroe County Class AA schools that feared competing with Aquinas.

   (2) It's borderline unconscionable to allow any private school to play in Class D, and even Class C is too low in a lot of cases. Even with Kearney and Batavia Notre Dame bumped to Class B this winter, five of the section's 24 Class D girls basketball teams are from private schools. In boys basketball, Section 5's last eight representatives in the NYSPHSAA Class D tournament have been either private or charter schools (another issue Section 5 and the state need to deal with; giving them a free ride based on the premise that they're technically public schools just doesn't cut it).

   Based on enrollment cutoffs and the competitive balance of the section and state, I can understand why Aquinas' ice hockey team plays in Division II. What I can't accept is how their boys lacrosse team plays in Class C (the smallest class).

   Conversely, precedent in no way prepared us for having the classification committee move Batavia Notre Dame from Class D to B in girls basketball this year. A look at a decade worth of results would suggest there's a significantly stronger case for moving the Fighting Irish boys team up one class rather than the girls up two.

   In total, it's indicative that the system isn't working. Since the state association won't do it, it's up to the Section 5 to start over and develop a sensible policy. Convene a meeting of the stakeholders -- and please leave out the dolts who insist all private schools should play in the highest classification in all sports, because that's not a reasonable position -- and develop rules to relieve the burden on a classification committee that's currently asked to look into a crystal ball to make assumptions about how good a transfer student will be but can't make a peep about the skills of an Urban-Suburban program student or a kid who's "tuitioned in" to a public school district.

   Come on, Section 5. You're better than this.

   Full disclosure: I am a 1980 Aquinas graduate and serve on that private school's hall of fame committee, which readers understandably may feel is relevant with respect to the above topic.

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