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Monday, July 27, 2015: Is it time to blow up how we classify private schools?

   Leading off today: The New York State Public High School Athletic Association holds its major meeting of the year this week as the Central Committee convenes Tuesday. Yesterday's blog covered the highlights with respect to action items -- the stuff that will be voted on -- and many of the discussion topics.

   I intentionally omitted two of the latter topics. That's because, even though they will not result in any new policy being adopted this week in Tarrytown, they have the potential to become news in New York high school sports as time goes on. As such, I wanted to give them more attention than they would have otherwise received yesterday alongside junior-high transfer rules, the new transgender student policy, etc.

   So here we go:

   Is a 'multiplier' the answer? I knew a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to mention how non-public schools are classified, and Will Springstead at The Post-Star made the job easier by framing the discussion via an interview with Patricia Ryan-Curry, a Section 7 representative on the NYSPHSAA Executive Committee.

   Ryan-Curry will be something of a point person this week when the so-called "multiplier" is discussed as a new option for how to classify private and charter schools for playoff competition. The subject will get an airing during the "cracker barrel" session in Tarrytown.

   For the uninitiated, cracker barrels throw together a cross-section of representatives attending the Central Committee meeting to discuss a variety of topics. A member takes notes on the session and recaps later for the larger audience. Some of the cracker barrel topics end up going nowhere, while others turn out to be a step in creating new initiatives or policy for the NYSPHSAA a year or two down the road.

   In a nutshell, the broad classification issue at the moment is that the 11 NYSPHSAA sections mostly handle the process for private and charter schools under local jurisdiction rather than via a statewide standard. It's a given that non-public schools are typically a different animal with respect to the composition of their student bodies, so their actual enrollment numbers are often not a reflection of the level at which they perform.

   Consequently, most sectional athletic councils have committees that review teams from each private school prior to the new season to determine which class they should play in. Each section has its own rules for deciding whether, for instance, a school with just 200 students should be moved up to Class B in basketball based on recent records and projected performance.

   With a history of rulings all over the board by these sectional committees, I've never been able to tell whether the objective is to move private schools up to the highest playoff class in which they can still possibly win or into the lowest class in which they're sure to lose. And the process for moving a school back down sure seems to take longer than the process for moving one up.

   The most frequently cited example over the years might be Syracuse CBA football. After winning the Section 3 Class C championship in 1997, the Brothers kept winning and were moved up consistently by the section. CBA would win Class B three straight years beginning in 1998, then got moved up again and won Class A in 2001 and '02. By 2004, CBA was winning Class AA (the largest division) in the sectional and state tournaments, where they've played since.

   If you ignore the fact that an entire league once picked up, moved and changed its name in order to pry itself free from having to play CBA, the Section 3 way has mostly

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worked. On the other hand, I castigated Section 5 in a blog 18 months ago for the way it re-classified Bishop Kearney girls basketball in midseason and then immediately reversed itself in the face of protests from numerous schools.

   Section 5 has a history, particularly in boys basketball, of sending private schools to the state tournament in Class D, and a couple of private schools on the other side of the state have been the source of frustration for small-school public foes in the state tourney.

   I'll repeat now what I've said before: When bad classification decisions get made, you can usually chalk it up to the system rather than the people making the decisions, who struggle with at-times vague guidelines. That's why the Section 7 idea needs to be heard -- not necessarily embraced in its present form, but at least heard.

   "I don't want to rush it through," Ryan-Curry told The Post-Star. "Section 7 wants to see it as a cracker-barrel item so that other people can tell us what they think and we can work on it, but I would like to see it go forward. I'd rather do it right than rush it through and have it fail."

   The concept calls for ditching classification committees and other local decision-making with a statewide rule to multiply the enrollment of non-public schools by 1.5 for purposes of assigning them to playoff classes.

   More often than not, the 50 percent bump in a BEDS number moves the school up by one class in sectional and state postseason play, which is a development I can live with. My status as a private-school graduate doesn't preclude me from recognizing it's not reasonable for private schools to play in Class D. It's fair to ask, though, if a one-class bump is enough for a team that wins consistently (see the Syracuse CBA reference above).

[ continued ]

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