Let's give State Sen. Russ Karpisek what he wants.
A conversation starter.
Karpisek's LB 1081 seeks to factor state tournament success into the NSAA classification system. But in our analysis of the bill, results suggest it will affect public high schools as much as private and parochial schools. That works against Karpisek's argument that it's not a level playing field between the two.
The legislator from Wilber wants the Nebraska School Activities Association to use a point system for team sports that would give schools one point each for winning a district title, a state tournament game, a state semifinal and a state championship game, a maximum of four points per season. Schools that accumulate 12 points or more over a four-year period would be reclassified into the next largest class for two years.
Beginning with 2000, our study of football, volleyball and girls and boys basketball shows that LB 1081 would have impacted 23 public-school teams for 54 current scheduling cycles (one year for all sports but football, which is two years) and 18 from private schools for 48 such cycles. For every Columbus Scotus in volleyball there's a Howells in football.
What's surprising to me is that the least impact would have been in boys basketball — three public and three private teams for totals of four years apiece. Volleyball would have had the most bump-ups, seven public teams for 18 years and seven private teams for 30 years.
A major flaw in LB 1081 is that the bump-up years would come after the athletes responsible for it had graduated. One superstar player or one strong senior class can be all the difference in a four-year cycle.
Consider Alliance when it had Jordan Hooper in girls basketball. The Bulldogs would have amassed 11 points while she was playing. If they had gotten to 12, Hooper would have been in a Nebraska uniform and Alliance would have been in a Class A district with a team that went 3-19 the following season.
Or Exeter-Milligan in football. Say the reigning Eight Man-1 state champion, which has been in back-to-back title games, had gotten to 12 (it had nine). Its enrollment has dropped to where it's the ninth-smallest school next year in Eight Man-2, but LB 1081 would dictate it play 11-man ball.
The perception of an uneven playing field between public and non-public high school teams has a long history in the state. In 1924, it was first proposed to include only public schools in the state association. Another strong push to ban non-public schools came through the NSAA in 1948.
More recently, an effort in 2002 led by the East Central Nebraska Conference to multiply non-public school enrollments by 1.35 generated much discussion in the Omaha area's NSAA district legislative meeting but didn't advance to statewide consideration. It would have bumped up 15 non-public schools into a higher class, including three of the state's strongest programs — Lincoln Pius X, Columbus Scotus and Falls City Sacred Heart.
Three years later, the focus shifted to allowing schools to subtract a percentage of their students who are in special education, free and reduced lunch programs and English Language Learning programs. The rationale was that it would level the playing field between public schools as well as between public and private schools. It got only to the second round of voting.
Will Karpisek's bill start, or re-start, the conversation within the NSAA membership? Because its introduction came a week after the NSAA held the last of its January district meetings, schools didn't have the chance to chew on its provisions while gathered together.
It's risky to wade into this issue, but there's an idea I'd like to see explored: bumping up non-public schools that draw from the same student pools — and club programs — in the state's largest cities.
If you applied this to the top 10 cities for population:
» Lincoln Pius X, Omaha Skutt, Omaha Gross and Omaha Roncalli would be in A rather than B.
» Columbus Scotus, Omaha Concordia, Lincoln Lutheran, Lincoln Christian, Kearney Catholic, Norfolk Catholic and Grand Island Central Catholic would be in B rather than C-1.
» Omaha Brownell-Talbot, Norfolk Lutheran, Hastings St. Cecilia and Fremont Bergan would go from C-2 to C-1.
» North Platte St. Patrick's, Omaha Christian and Grand Island Heartland would rise from D-1 to C-2.
» And Lincoln's College View and Parkview would be in D-1 rather than D-2.
There is another definite conversation starter in Karpisek's bill, one that has been overlooked — a 180-school-day, not 90-day, sit-out from varsity competition for students who transfer under open-enrollment rules after the May 1 deadline.
Long overdue, this might quell some of the rampant movement of athletes — especially seniors — if it would cost them an entire school year. The 90-day rule really impacts only fall-sport athletes. Winter-sport athletes miss a month of contests and there's no penalty when it comes to spring sports.
Omaha Westside Athletic Director Tom Kerkman had a similar proposal that didn't make it out of the District II meeting in November. This part of Karpisek's bill merits strong consideration from the NSAA membership.