Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Division by Multiplication: Illinois Once Again Heats up the Public v. Private Debate in HS Sports

In 2005, the Illinois High School Association (the “IHSA”), which governs both public and private high school sports in Illinois, implemented an enrollment multiplier that requires actual enrollments of non-boundaried schools be multiplied by 1.65 in determination of classification for athletics competition. This multiplier pits smaller private schools against much larger public schools, the effectiveness of which has been hotly debated, in Illinois and other states throughout the country that have implemented mechanisms like a multiplier in an effort bring the number of state championships won by private schools more in line with their smaller numbers relative to public schools.

I wrote a law review article on the subject in 2009 evaluating enrollment multipliers in high school sports entitled Prep Plus: Evaluating the Motivations for and Effects of Enrollment Multipliers and Other Measures in High School Sports¸ 10 Tex. Rev. Ent. & Sports L. 1 (2008). I have also written about the topic in this space back in 2006.

The multiplier has been in effect in Illinois for five years now, and last week, Illinois State Representative Michael Connelly of the Illinois House of Representatives has reignited the bitter debate over the IHSA’s use of an enrollment multiplier for high school athletics competition. Representative Connelly has proposed an Amendment to House Bill 2392, which forbids the use of multiplier or multiplier-like devices in the determination of classification for athletics competition. The amendment has gained twenty-five co-sponsors thus far. The amendment requires that competition classes be established based solely upon actual enrollments of boys and girls for respective sports (e.g. boys’ enrollment determines football class). An identical form of the bill is making its way through the Illinois Senate in the form of Amendment to Senate Bill 624.

Historically, both proponents and opponents of the enrollment multiplier have sought a level playing field, but the arguments are strikingly adverse. Proponents of the multiplier denote that because parochial, private, charter and magnet schools are not bound by pre-determined school districts, these non-boundaried schools draw from a larger pool of students, and, as a result, gain a competitive advantage. Opponents argue that enrollment multipliers create unfair “David vs. Goliath” matchups that are inherently prejudicial.

The arguments being advanced in Illinois this time around are essentially the same. In a letter directed to high school principals, the Executive Director for the IHSA, Dr. Marty Hickman, stressed that a number of non-boundaried schools have won championships since the implementation of the multiplier. Thus if the goal of the multiplier was to lessen the amount of championships won by non-boundaries schools, thereby bringing the numbers of non-boundaried schools winning championships more in line with the proportion of non-boundaried schools in the IHSA, Dr. Hickman is admitting that the multiplier has failed.

Dr. Hickman also urged opposition to the Amendment on the basis that it usurps principals’ governance and oversight power of the operations of the Association. The IHSA, as the governing body for high school athletics in Illinois, clearly sides with public institutions here.

Representative Connelly and his co-sponsors will argue that Dr. Hickman’s contentions ignore the other end of the spectrum. While it is true that large parochial schools enjoy significant athletic success in Illinois, smaller private institutions with no history of athletic prowess are often forced to compete against public school powerhouses, leading to lopsided results that benefit no one. Also, the fact that large private schools are still achieving exemplary results indicates that the multiplier is disproportionately affecting the schools with small student bodies and even smaller budgets.

The Amendment was proposed by Representative Connelly on April 1, 2011 and has yet to be debated by the General Assembly. The rhetoric already emanated suggests that it will be furiously contested. With staunch bipartisan support on both sides of the fence, it will be interesting to see if this proposed legislation will be implemented.