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Prep Sports: IHSA radically changes policies for state tournaments

June 22, 2011

By Matt Nestor
Sports Columnist

Since the IHSA increased their class sizes for the state tournament series in 2005, one of the most controversial pieces has been the student body multiplier to determine which class a school plays in.

Over the years, many smaller private schools have been moved up or down, causing a lot of mismatches along the way in the state tournaments.

For the first time, the IHSA feels they have enough data at hand to apply waivers to keep schools in their best class and override the multiplier.

“We have been studying the impact and effectiveness of the multiplier since its inception in 2005,” IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said. “Over the years, we have seen a number of instances where the multiplier has been overly punitive to some programs, resulting in lopsided outcomes in postseason contests. Now, we have four years’ worth of data since the class expansion that occurred in 2007-08, and we felt that we could address some of the inadequacies in the system.”

The multiplier typically applies to private schools and charter schools, but can also affect public schools in multi-high school districts that do not accept students from a fixed part of the district.

One of the biggest surprises from the changes is that waivers can now be applied at an individual sport level. In the past, any school that applied for a waiver would have all sports affected. Now, each program can be looked at on its own.

To qualify for a waiver, a team will have had to do none of the following to qualify: won a trophy, qualified for the state final tournament, won a sectional, won a regional two or more times, finished second or third in the sectional two or more times (track only), or have won a first-round playoff game (football only).

“Our previous waiver policy was well thought out, but it simply turned out to be too conservative,” Hickman said. “There have been a number of compelling cases around the state where one highly-successful team at a school or a few highly-successful individuals have prevented all the other teams from that school from being able to receive the multiplier waiver. Our board felt the right thing to do was to change the waiver policy and give these student-athletes the chance to compete on more equitable ground.”

In the end, the IHSA hopes to even out the quality teams across the classes and give more good teams a fair chance to win a state title. Over the past four years, class 1A has been depleted while some schools have been moved up to compete with schools much bigger than they.

“There is no doubt that this is one of the biggest changes the IHSA has undertaken in some time,” Hickman said. “The new policies represent significant shifts in philosophy. The high schools that make up the IHSA are a mixture of small schools, large schools, city schools, rural schools, with countless other variables that make them all different. Those differences mean that no two schools will be affected by the new policies in exactly the same way.”

From the June 22-28 issue

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