Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Roosevelt to the Suburban

Most of you who know me know that I take an interest in high school sports. I wouldn't call it an obsession, but I do attend high school sporting events fairly regularly and keep tabs on the happenings in the high school sports world. Playing along with my history interests, I'm also interested in the history of high school sports, and was recently referenced in an article in the local Record-Courier about the long-standing rivalry between Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent and Ravenna High School.

The biggest news recently, outside the Kent-Ravenna game this past weekend, was the announcement that Roosevelt will be leaving the Portage Trail Conference (PTC) and joining the Suburban League in all sports. The initial announcement said it would be in 2016, but seeing as every other school has indicated 2015, I won't be surprised to see that change for Roosevelt either. As the announcement has come about, I've noticed a lot of the same questions in comments, the biggest, of course, is why? Also, people are wondering about the rivalry with Ravenna.

First, in addressing why, the answer mainly lies in the issue of competitive balance. Money is somewhat of an issue, but not in terms of making more money, but rather spending less. Athletic conferences in Ohio are designed to make sure schools have regular scheduling partners who are of similar size and relatively close distance. The move from the PTC to the Suburban doesn't really represent much of a change in travel costs--in reality it will probably increase travel costs slightly--but it does represent a change in competitive balance.

The Suburban League, in its new configuration, will be set up the same way the PTC is: two divisions that are determined by a school's enrollment. As enrollment numbers change, a school's position can also change. In theory this works, but in reality, what I've seen so far is the break between the "big school" and "small school" divisions isn't usually that big, so the schools at the bottom of the "big school" division are often better suited for the "small school" division or vice versa. In the PTC, though, you have Roosevelt well ahead of any other school in enrollment. Typically, Roosevelt is around 1,300 students while the next largest school is around 900 (that can be Ravenna, Norton, Springfield, or Coventry, all of which are roughly the same size). Roosevelt is nearly twice the size of Crestwood and Field, which have about 700-750 students each. In the new Suburban League, the enrollments will be much closer. All of the schools in the "small school" division, of which Roosevelt will be a member, are between 900 and 1,300. Copley, Cloverleaf, Barberton, Highland, and Revere are all schools with over 1,000 students while Aurora and Tallmadge are both around 900.

Why does that matter? While having more students is no guarantee a school will always have better sports teams, mathematically, it means that in most years, they likely will. More students means a larger pool of talent. Sure, you'll always have smaller schools that buck the trend or that have a particularly talented group of athletes come through every so often. But in the long run, there is a much better chance that the large school will be more competitive more often. That is why the state divides sports into divisions based on enrollment, so more schools have the opportunity to play for state championships against similar schools.

In football, where there are 7 divisions now (the number of divisions depends on the sport), with the largest schools being Division I and the smallest in Division VII. Ohio uses a computer system to determine who makes the playoffs. Within each division are 4 regions and within those regions, the teams are given computer points. While winning always gets a team those valuable computer points, beating a team from a smaller division means you get less because the computer expects the larger school to beat the smaller school. This was most evident in 2010, when Roosevelt and Ravenna were both in Division II for football (which is not the case this year). Despite Ravenna beating Roosevelt head-to-head and winning the PTC Metro that year, Ravenna missed the playoffs, finishing 9th (top 8 qualify) just behind Roosevelt. Roosevelt's early-season wins over Division I Stow and Division II Kenston off-set Ravenna's wins over smaller schools by just the slightest, but enough to send one to the playoffs and not the other.

Those football points, right now, largely work against Roosevelt since it is the largest school in the PTC. This year and next, it will be the only Division II football school while the rest are all Division III. It's not an issue if the team goes 9-1 or 10-0 or even 8-2 (this year they are 4-1 thus far). But 7-3 and 6-4 records will look a lot better to the computers coming against fellow Division II schools like Copley and Barberton than they will against Division III schools like Crestwood and Field.

Another aspect of the size differential is the additional sports that don't have a home in the PTC. Roosevelt has almost 30 varsity teams. Boys volleyball, boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls swimming & diving, girls golf, ice hockey, and girls field hockey all play in other leagues because not enough (or any) schools in the PTC have teams. Playing in other leagues increases transportation costs for most of the sports because the teams generally have to go outside the area of the PTC to find leagues to participate in. A move to the Suburban will find homes for most of the above listed sports, with the exception of ice hockey. Of the sports listed above, the only other PTC schools to have them are Crestwood with boys and girls swimming & diving and Southeast with a girls golf team.  For all the others, Roosevelt is the only PTC school to offer that sport.

So, what happens after this? The first question most people have is in regards to the rivalry with Ravenna. In the new Suburban League, Roosevelt will have 7 league games and 3 open spots for non-league games. I have to believe that Stow will remain one of those 3 (Stow is also joining the Suburban League, but will be in the large school division, so the game won't count as a league game) just because of the money aspect. Stow coming to Kent and especially Kent going to Stow is a huge money-maker for both schools' athletic departments, so I don't see it ending anytime soon as long as it remains competitive.

The same is largely true with the Ravenna game. It is still competitive and will likely remain a revenue-producer for both schools for some time. While the magnitude of the game may lessen by the schools not being in the same conference (meaning you won't have a game like 2011 that decided the PTC Metro title), there will always be the long-standing rivalry between the two communities regardless of whether or not it's a conference game.  The only way I could see the Kent-Ravenna rivalry ending is if it becomes non-competitive. Even if that would happen, it would likely take a very long period of domination by one school to bring an end to the football rivalry. In other sports, I think Roosevelt will continue to schedule Ravenna as non-league, again, because of the overall rivalry and the interest it generates. About the only change might be just one meeting in basketball each season instead of two, but anything is possible.

This move will affect other rivalries too. I would say a rivalry was definitely developing between Roosevelt and Field in several sports and also with Streetsboro, at least in boys basketball. I anticipate both of those rivalries will come to an end, though Streetsboro may remain a boys basketball non-league game (which it has been for a number of years and likely will be again this year since Streetsboro is back in the PTC County). I don't see Roosevelt scheduling Field in sports beyond Cross Country and Track if at all, which is how it used to be before the formation of the PTC.

Conversely, I definitely foresee a rivalry developing with Tallmadge. Right now, Tallmadge's big rival is Green, but Green is leaving the Suburban (which is what largely caused this all in the first place), plus Green isn't adjacent to Tallmadge like Kent is. While I don't see a rivalry with Tallmadge ever eclipsing Ravenna, I easily see it becoming a strong one, especially from the perspective of Tallmadge since they will have no true rival and if both remain competitive in football. Tallmadge and Roosevelt were longtime members of the old Metro League until 1990 and periodically play each other in boys basketball and a few other sports.

Barberton is another old rival that Roosevelt knows well. Barberton was a member of the old Metro League and then the WRC South, so it's only been 8 years since the two were league rivals. While there has never been a fierce rivalry with Barberton on the level of Ravenna or even Stow, there was clearly a rivalry between the two in their old Metro and WRC days, though seeing as the old Metro only had 5 teams at the time it finally merged to form the WRC, every team had a rivalry of sorts with the other. Barberton also has some of the most intense fans in the area (especially for basketball) and travels well. When the PTC was looking to expand about a year ago to replace Windham and East Canton, I was hoping Barberton would join, but the PTC ended up not expanding at all.

That leads to the next topic: what's next for the PTC? As I said, the PTC avoided expansion two years ago when Windham and East Canton announced they were leaving, mostly because there weren't a lot of viable alternatives. It's clear the PTC doesn't want any larger schools, but instead, seems to want to add smaller schools so that Southeast, Streetsboro, and Woodridge can all be bumped into the Metro Division. Right now, in addition to the gap between Roosevelt and the rest of the Metro, there is a noticeable gap between Southeast, Streetsboro, and Woodridge and the rest of the County Division. In other words, Roosevelt leaving may be a blessing in terms of organization and achieving the balance the PTC wants.

Two smaller schools in Geauga County, Cardinal and Berhshire, have already been mentioned as possibilities since those two are leaving the Chagrin Valley Conference soon and have expressed interest. Even if that happens, it still leaves one more opening. When the PTC debated replacing Windham and East Canton, 4 schools applied: Northwest in southern Summit County, St. Thomas Aquinas in Louisville, Lake Center Christian School, and Barberton. Barberton is off to the Suburban again, so they're obviously not in the picture, and Northwest would likely be in the Metro Division. Lake Center Christian would be the smallest school in the PTC, but they don't have a football team, which makes them rather unattractive. The problem St. Thomas Aquinas presents is that they're a private school, so my guess is that other PTC County Division schools would feel (and likely be) at a disadvantage against St. Thomas since St. Thomas can draw from a much wider pool of talent even if they have a similar-sized enrollment as other PTC County schools.

Although the PTC area is almost surrounded by smaller school districts, most of them are in conferences that are stable, so there is no pressing need to change affiliations. With that in mind, it may be difficult for the PTC to get back to 16 teams. They could still function at 15 and have the County with 7 and the Metro with 8. While less than ideal for scheduling, it is hardly impossible, and it would largely solve the enrollment disparity that currently exists in both divisions.

Overall, I hope it's obvious that I think this move is a good move for Roosevelt, the PTC, and the Suburban League. The Suburban League was having some enrollment disparities of its own, so this allows them to address that on both ends. For Roosevelt, it allows them to compete and associate with schools that are more similar than those in the PTC, not only in terms of enrollment, but also facilities, and gives more sports a home league. For the PTC, it allows them to also address the enrollment disparity in both divisions. People forget that Roosevelt wasn't in the initial wave of invitations that brought about the PTC from the old Portage County League. It was only after Roosevelt was faced with the option of staying in the old WRC and having to deal with increased travel costs and being the smallest school in the league that they pursued membership in the PTC. Had Barberton not left the WRC when it did, I don't think Roosevelt would've either.

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