Up for debate: Public versus Private

Published 1:42 am Tuesday, June 27, 2017

AHSAA discussing options to help with recruiting issues

Do private schools have an athletic advantage over public schools? That has been a dominating debate in Alabama High School athletics for decades and is now coming to a head.

Earlier in 2017, Alabama State Rep. Ritchie Whorton proposed a bill that would mandate separate championships for private and public schools.

Lawmakers, AHSAA officials and coaches discussed the issue at a hearing in Montgomery in March, but the AHSAA committee did not take a vote regarding the issue and the bill was never presented to the Alabama House of Representatives for vote.

AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese has been adamant that he feels the issue should be resolved by the AHSAA and not by lawmakers.

In response to this issue, the AHSAA created a task force to reevaluate the relationship between public and private schools, and to provide possible solutions for any issues.

The task force updated the AHSAA’s Central Board in April with a number of possible solutions and will meet again in July, but no vote is expected regarding the issue still.

One of the complaints against private schools in this debate has consistently been about recruiting. Despite the fact that recruiting is explicitly against AHSAA rules, detractors have accused many private schools of recruiting potential athletes, especially in football.

Many of the top private schools in the state are very expensive to attend and to attract more students most offer scholarships.

Most private schools contend that they do not offer athletic based scholarships but that has not stopped people like Rep. Whorton from accusing these schools of the practice.

Andalusia High School and Opp High School both face private schools in their regions.

Private school UMS-Wright is a Class 4A Region 1 rival of the Andalusia Bulldogs.

UMS-Wright moved to the region in 2000 and has won 12 football region titles in that timespan. Andalusia broke UMS-Wright’s four-year region title run this past season, despite losing to UMS-Wright 14-7 in 2016.

Andalusia and UMS-Wright have met a total of 13 times since 2000 with UMS-Wright winning all 13 meetings.

This type of success has become commonplace across the state with private schools but it isn’t always the case.

Dothan’s Providence-Christian High School is also a private school, which moved from Class 2A to 3A after moderate success in 2A. In Providence-Christian’s first year in 3A, the school went 5-5 and was defeated by Class 3A Region 2 foe Opp High School 43-22.

Another Dothan school, Houston Academy, is yet another private school that Opp must face every year in Class 3A Region 2 after moving up. Like Providence-Christian, Houston Academy enjoyed some success in Class 2A, including five region championships, before moving up to Class 3A in 2016. In Houston Academy’s first year in Class 3A, it won just one game.

One way that the AHSAA has attempted to keep things fair between private and public schools is the 1999 rule that mandates private-school enrollment be multiplied by 1.35.

That means that a private school with 100 students would have an enrollment of 135 in the AHSAA’s mind, for classification purposes.

This multiplier rule causes private schools to move up in classification as enrollment increases.

One possibility that has been discussed, and will likely be brought up at the Central Board’s July meeting, is increasing the multiplier rule even further.

Regardless of what the task force and Central Board discusses in July, it’s unlikely that the AHSAA would make a decision before 2017 fall enrollment is reported to the AHSAA.