Clovis News: Sports

Equity in Valley high school sports an elusive goal

I marvel at the efficiency of In-N-Out, whose menu is short, lines are long, service is quick, food is good and customers are happy.

If only the same could be said for the divisional alignment process for playoffs in the Central Section.

Goofy analogy? Hold on to your burger for a moment.

The final divisions, following an appeals process, have been determined for the 2010-11 school year.

They were shaped by competitive equity, as opposed to previous processes based on enrollment and, later, overall strength of athletic programs.

Three choices, a short menu. But, as opposed to In-N-Out -- apparently quite successful with but a few entrees -- the section has experienced difficulty in developing options that are appetizing for all.

"It's obviously not a clear-cut science," says Thom Sembritzki, chairman of the section's executive committee, which reviewed appeals from the latest realignment. "But I think we are trying to do what's best overall for the section."

They're apparently getting closer, given the fact there were only 26 appeals out of a possible 3,600 (90 schools times 40 boys and girls sports).

What's truly best? Impossible to say in a complicated, sometimes contentious issue.

Consider the old choices and the new:

Enrollment: The simplest procedure -- compete in the postseason against schools with like numbers of students. The section did this for years; most of the state's remaining nine sections still do.

Problem: Twofold -- 1, Large urban schools with severe eligibility and financial issues (i.e., Fresno, Roosevelt) have not a prayer against the advantaged (i.e., Clovis West, Buchanan). And, 2, small private schools virtually without hardships (i.e., Memorial, Immanuel, Central Valley Christian) would consistently clean up in D's IV and V.

Athletic program strength: Lump a school's teams into a specific division based on the average success of them all.

Problem: Hypothetically, a school with a D-I quality football program and a D-V quality softball program could be placed in D-III for all sports.

Competitive equity: A subjective procedure tied to a scoring formula -- compete in the postseason against schools better matching your ability based on recent success. Enrollment is no consideration; a point system combining league, playoff and seeding results in the previous two years is all that matters in a process that treats sports individually.

Problem: Programs that have distinguished themselves by good coaching and effort -- as opposed to success related to enrollment, demographics and resources -- are elevated to higher divisions where they will often be matched against larger schools.

After finding that Door 1 is no longer even a consideration and Door 2 is too inconsistent, the section had already stepped into Door 3 for a few sports before blowing it open for all, effective next school year.

Because recent history doesn't lie, the competitive equity approach is no doubt the most practical in regard to fairness -- the ultimate goal of section administrators, who voted near unanimously to take this path.

It has already resulted in some feel-good stories that could have never been written without it. Tears still haven't dried from section D-III titles secured by McLane's baseball team in 2008 and Roosevelt's girls basketball team nine months later. They could no longer dream of accomplishing such feats in D-I, where their enrollments lie.

That said, division adjustments will be considered annually. And here's hoping the concept is modified a bit, perhaps allowing the section to bump a school's specific sport only one division above where it lands by enrollment.

Two examples of programs that will effectively be punished because they've only done things right can be found in girls basketball -- Hanford and Yosemite.

Hanford, by enrollment (1,649), is a D-III school that will be bumped to D-I. Yosemite has D-IV numbers (944), but will remain in D-II.

Those programs have no competitive advantages in Kings County and Oakhurst.

Their advantages begin and end with off-campus coaches -- a farm manager (Tom Parrish, Hanford) and a lawyer (Gary Blate, Yosemite) -- who have invested a great deal of time in developing their programs.

"More power to them," section commissioner Jim Crichlow says. "Others just don't want to do that; they don't want to put in the time."

When John Wooden won 10 national championships as men's basketball coach at UCLA from 1964-75, the Bruins weren't forced to join the NBA.

Instead, the onus was on others to catch up. And they did.

Similarly, there's a lot of catching up to do in the Central Section.

Meanwhile, the section office may be pinning itself in a corner in an ongoing effort to achieve equity.

And that's not always fair, either.

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