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Saturday, April 08, 2006
(Un)Leveling the Playing Field: Enrollment Multipliers in High School Sports

As this year’s spring sports season concludes, many state high school athletic associations have started their consideration of rule changes for the upcoming sports year. Recently, there has been a push on these associations to do something about a perceived disparity in the amount of state championships won by private schools, especially in football and basketball. Some states, including Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee, have addressed this issue by multiplying a fixed percentage to a private school’s enrollment total. This multiplication effectively requires private schools to compete against larger schools for state championships. Private schools have cried “foul” and have both filed lawsuits and lobbied state legislatures to reverse the associations’ decisions. Yet, as more and more states consider enacting these multipliers, states with multipliers have found their systems have not produced the desired results as private schools still win a disproportionate number of state championships. Some states have abandoned the multiplier concept altogether while others have strengthened the multiplier by increasing the percentage.

The aforementioned issues are discussed in my next law review article: “Prep Plus: Evaluating the Motivations for and Effects of Multipliers and other Measures in High School Sports,” (publication TBD). Below are some questions that I am attempting to answer in the article as I am in the process of interviewing those connected with high school athletics (coaches, athletic directors, officials, athletes). Any thoughts would be appreciated, both commentary here, and, please contact me for possible contribution (quotes from people in the know make for good copy) to the article. Although I am a product of a Jesuit high school, I am taking an objective approach to an issue that is very dear to many of our hearts: our high school sports experience. So, some questions…

Do private schools have inherent advantages that make them more successful on the playing field? Should state associations regulate athletic competitions in ways that foster an even distribution of state championships? Do state associations send the message to public school students that they count less than private school students (through the institution of multipliers) in an effort to produce more public school state champions? Are separate tournaments for private and public schools a better alternative to enrollment multiplier? Do these methods taint a state’s championship as unfair?


Not that I'm an expert on the subject, but I'm a fan of the way that Texas handles this issue. I'm not sure if it is dictated by state law, but public schools compete in competitions (both athletic and academic) against each other under regulation by the UIL (University Interscholastic League). Private/Religious Schools compete under TAPPS (Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools).

I've had discussions about how schools would fare in the other division. The fact of the matter is that it doesn't matter. Schools in each division get to compete for state championships on an equal playing field and there are more overall champions. I think it's a win-win situation.

I grew up in the state of Alabama where the public and private schools compete against each other and there were always rumors of recruiting players and other unfair advantages for private schools. I suppose the multiplier is an okay idea, but seperate divisions seem to leave no doubt about a level playing field.

Blogger austin -- 4/08/2006 4:07 PM  

I've never even heard of such a thing. Regardless, half the point of competing on a public school team is the dream of beating the private schoolers. These rules are like a reverse 3/5 discrimination.

Anonymous tim in tampa -- 4/08/2006 6:53 PM  

What about assigning male sports based on male enrollment figures and female sports based on female enrollment figures? This way each school is competing agains other schools which draw approximately the same number of students of each gender to compete in each sport. While the number of students actually trying out for the sport will vary by school, it seems like the easiest way to keep the "competition" equal.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/09/2006 5:05 PM  


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Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/10/2006 9:44 AM  

Great topic for discussion Tim. I've lived in Illinois for four years now and the debate the past couple of years over a new multiplier rule has been quite intense. I grew up in Texas and personally agree with austin that publics and privates should compete separately for championships as I don't believe you can ever truly achieve a level playing field in this regard.

Blogger Chad McEvoy -- 4/10/2006 10:25 AM  

I live in Utah where we have open enrollment for public high schools. The accusations of recruiting are pointed at the public schools, rather than the private. We have one school that, in the last 15 years or so, has dominated the state football championship, the private schools are rarely competitive here.

Anonymous Jeff -- 4/10/2006 12:04 PM  

I grew up in Washington state (publics and privates compete against each other) but now live in Virginia (separate associations and championships). I've always assumed that separate associations in Virginia were a southern reaction to integration of public schools. Am I wrong?

Anonymous Ray -- 4/14/2006 5:13 PM  

As someone who lives next door in Iowa, the multiplier debate in Illinois has intrigued me enough to follow it. I'm not a math major, but I do find the mathematical solution to it very confusing.

But to review how Iowa has done this, they do not use multipliers on private schools, since there are not many here. Iowa uses a system for the post-season playoffs by using a point system for football and basketball in all the classes (1-A smaller to 4-A large schools). If a 4-A school defeated a 3-A school for example, the 4A school would not receive as many points as they would have versus a fellow 4A school.

It's convoluted, but it would be fair for me to look up the arrangement and read it before adding more to this discussion.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/14/2006 7:54 PM  

I also live in Iowa where certain private/parochial schools dominate athletics year in and year out. Can someone give me an example of how Illinois or another state uses multipliers? What is the "magic number" and how is that established?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 10/21/2006 2:30 PM  

thank you

Anonymous kurtlar -- 2/11/2009 6:03 PM  

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