St. Paul’s Episcopal School has decided to go all-in in its fight against the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s competitive balance legislation.
It’s a complicated issue, but it’s not at all difficult to come to the conclusion that this entire issue is best characterized as lunacy.
Competitive balance is scheduled to take effect this coming school year. It allows jealous public school officials, vindictive parents and opportunistic politicians to punish private schools they believe are too successful in sports.
For years the AHSAA has used a formula for counting private school students that is uncomfortably similar to Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, in which enslaved blacks were counted as three-fifths of the number of white inhabitants in order to determine the number of residents in each state.
In this case, every private school student is counted as 1.35 of a student in order to ensure that most private schools play at a higher classification. Shouldn’t we agree to never count any person as any fraction of another person going forward?
Anyway, that’s not the issue here. Everybody had already come to accept this provision and the private schools were still winning their share — but certainly not all or even most — of state championships. For instance, in the most recent baseball and softball championships, only two of the seven champions in baseball (Mobile Christian and Faith Academy) and one of the seven softball champions were private schools. In football, St. Paul’s and UMS-Wright were the only private schools among the seven winners.
So, it’s clear that the competitive balance legislation was a solution looking for a problem.
Under this new rule, private schools that have a certain level of success are moved up to a higher classification. If they continue to win at that level, they will be moved to an even higher classification.
The new rule, which does not apply to successful public schools, will immediately affect many private school programs, but only two in football — St. Paul’s and Madison Academy. The net result is that a school such as St. Paul’s, whose enrollment would dictate that the Saints should be matched against teams in Class 4A, has played recently in Class 5A because of the 1.35 multiplier. Now, because of competitive balance, they will be playing in the ultra-competitive 6A Region 1 with much larger powerhouses, such as Spanish Fort, Daphne, Blount and Saraland.
Some in the public school sector have long complained that private schools have two advantages — they have more resources and they illegally recruit players.
The first issue is relevant, but should be viewed as a haves-versus-have-nots issue, not a private-versus-public issue. For instance, schools such as Saraland and Spanish Fort don’t take a back seat to any school in term of facilities, commitment to excellence, coaches and every legal advantage money can buy. Good for them. They have decided to invest in their kids academically and athletically, just as the parents at Bayside Academy or Faith Academy have.
In terms of illegal recruiting, I have no doubt it happens. I also have no doubt it’s happening at roughly the same rate in public schools as in private schools. But the hostility is not directed at any of those successful public schools.
Look, I understand the jealousy. I grew up playing at a public school and one of our biggest rivals was a well-funded nearby private school that is still consistently competing for state championships today.
I also understand why private school officials are outraged and feel compelled to stand up against this misguided rule, particularly for their athletes in the collision sport of football.
But that doesn’t mean the reaction by St. Paul’s officials is going to make things better. Last week, the school announced it would sue the AHSAA and seek an injunction over the competitive balance ruling.
I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me St. Paul’s has no legal leg on which to stand. The school is a voluntary member of the AHSAA. It can either work within the organization to implement change or it can withdraw from the association. The Alabama Independent Schools Association is still active and accepting new members if St. Paul’s or any other private school decides it doesn’t like the direction the AHSAA is going.
Having said that, I have to side with St. Paul’s in its effort to try to reverse this injustice.
This is all a big mess that should never have come to this. But this is what happens when petty and jealous parents come together with opportunistic politicians to influence misguided and unfair rules designed to punish teams rather than try to work hard to beat them.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.