The private/public school debate over competitive imbalance is one that's been prevalent for decades for the Kansas State High School Activities Association, with a resolution proving to be elusive.
So when Paola principal Jeff Hines and his Frontier League brethren sent forth a proposal to deal with the issue by splitting private schools into a separate division for championship competition, he knew he was likely fighting an uphill battle.
"I had really low expectations coming into today," Hines said of Wednesday's KSHSAA Board of Directors meeting in Topeka. "My Facebook feed was blowing up and my e-mail inbox was full of people asking questions. What I shared with them was pass or fail, win or lose, we're taking a step forward."
The step forward may not have been the one Hines and Company desired, as the proposal to split public and private schools into separate divisions failed by a 43-21 count. But Hines is encouraged that the dialogue for creating change has been re-opened and ultimately something can get done to address the competitive imbalance that exists between the two entities.
"What I shared with the board was that I thought it was important that we pass this out and not look at it that we're making an endorsement of this proposal, but saying it's time we hear from the membership on this," Hines said. "We don't get to hear from the membership on this, but this is something we can cross off the list and turn our things to other things that could be successful like a multiplier or success model."
Hines presented plenty of information to the board indicating that KSHSAA member schools are in support of some kind of change being made to the current system, which places all schools — public and private — in classifications based strictly on enrollment. Kansas is one of only 15 states in the nation that still use that system for determining classifications, while more than 30 states use some kind of competitive balance factor in determining school classification.
In surveys sent out to the KSHSAA member schools from 2016 and 2018, 87% responded that a change to the current model used by the KSHSAA was warranted.
"The question isn't 'should we do something?' The question is 'what should we do?' " Hines said.
Perhaps the biggest hindrance in passing Wednesday's proposal was the fact that those schools that desired change were indecisive on the best way to go about it. Hines said 36% were in favor of a multiplier, 26% wanted a success modifier and 25% wanted separate divisions.
"The most frustrating part in trying to get this change is getting consensus from across a state that's 400 miles wide and 200 miles north to south," Hines said. "I truly believe that (KSHSAA executive director) Bill Faflick is going to continue his 'lead by listening' mantra, which means he'll gather data from fall regional meetings and league meetings from the entire year across the state. I'm hopeful that KSHSAA puts together a proposal for the May meeting."
In 2009, the data from the KSHSAA Public/Private Study committee showed that private schools win a disproportionate percentage of state titles and earn a disproportionate percentage of postseason final eight, final four and championship game berths. That trend has not faded and perhaps has grown even greater.
In the 2018-19 school year, private schools captured 24 of the 102 team state titles handed out (23.5%). Take out the 22 titles in Class 6A, which does not have a private school among its 32-school contingent, and the percentage jumps to 30%.
While that may not seem like an overabundance, given that there are only 26 private schools as compared to more than 320 public schools, it's considerable. Programs like Miege football (five straight Class 4A state championships) and Wichita Collegiate girls tennis (10 straight titles in 4A or 3-2-1A) have given an almost invincible image.
"There are schools in our state that have more state championships than entire leagues do," Hines told the board in his pre-vote comments. "Some of these schools have only been in existence since the late 1980s. It defies logic and doesn't make sense."
Opposition to the proposal pointed out that such success comes from a number of variables.
"There has been a disproportionate number of schools that are successful for a lot of reasons," said board member Jim McNiece, who represents the State Board of Education and has served as an administrator at both private and public schools during his career. "In one case, we identify that they're private. ... But this problem can be solved in a different way."
One of those other mitigating factors was addressed at Wednesday's board meeting and could have immediate ramifications statewide. By a 42-24 count, the board approved a proposal to change the state's transfer eligibility time frame.
Currently, a student who transfers schools for any reason other than a physical move or hardship must only sit out 18 weeks, meaning a student-athlete transferring immediately after the completion of one sports season at a school would be eligible at their new school in time for that same season the following year.
Under the new rule passed on Wednesday, transfers wouldn't become eligible for one full year after their move. It will become effective at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
"From Day 1, I thought if someone would attack the transfer rule and get that right, it would probably do nearly as much good as changing the private-public school issue," Hines said. "It's going to cause real issues. Right now you finish your season and you're eligible for it next year. That's gone now."
Faflick said the new rule likely would affect athletes who specialize in one sport more than multi-sport athletes, and also would affect the urban and suburban schools more, where moving from one school to another can be relatively easy given geographics.
"I think it's a strategic and fair way for transfers to occur," Faflick said. "You can't really beat the system by sitting out a season you already weren't going to compete in.
"There are a lot of layers to be concerned with the success of schools, and transfers are integral to that. That can be an important component that schools win with their own kids."
Student-athletes whose families make physical moves from one school to another will still become immediately eligible, as will certain hardship cases. But the days of widespread transferring for athletic/academic purposes only may be over.
With that measure passing, Faflick said that attention can remain on the public-private issue moving forward.
"It's put a spotlight on it, but that spotlight was put on it when the data from the surveys was shared," Faflick said. "It was a discussion item and will continue to be a discussion item. We talk about it at every board meeting we have and certainly have no intention of abandoning that. But there has to be more than talk at some point, there needs to be a decision.
"We need to have a decision or a very solid proposal to take forward so we can have what the schools really want when we take that final step."
• In other action, the board approved a proposal to allow Class 1A to split back into two divisions for basketball, volleyball and scholars bowl, passing the measure 41-26.
Currently, Class 1A has 114 schools, nearly double the size of Classes 3A and 2A, which have 64 schools each, and nearly four times the size of Classes 6A, 5A and 4A, which have 32 schools. Class 1A was split into two divisions from 2011-18, returning to one division when last year's new classification model was passed.
The proposal will now be sent out for all Class 1A schools to vote on individually, and if a majority vote in favor of the split, Class 1A will go back to two divisions in the 2020-21 school year.