By Ryan Rohde
Saint Joseph’s Prep -- a longtime Philadelphia-area high school football powerhouse -- typically sees its season end with a Philadelphia Catholic league championship or a stout record of 10-0 or 9-1.
This season, however, there is even more to strive for than just a league title. The Philadelphia Catholic league has chosen to participate in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association in 2008 with an opportunity for all of its teams to win a state championship.
This was a dream never even possible before the season.
So now that St. Joseph's can compete in the same postseason as the rest of its PIAA counterparts, especially with a roster that boasts a number of kids from southern New Jersey and from the surrounding Philadelphia area -- a priviledge that public school teams do not have -- it raises the question: Do private school football teams have an advantage over the public school teams that they compete against?
The question over whether public school and private schools should play in the same leagues or playoff classes intensifies with each passing year. The topic has been controversial and often times sparks emotion in parents, fans and administrators.
Each state association has different rules and regulations on the matter. For instance in some states, like California and Florida, it's considered normal to have private schools playing along side public schools during the regular season and postseason.
But there are also states like Mississippi and Alabama where most private schools play in a separate league not associated with the state.
But perhaps the bulk of the controversy stems from the ability of private schools to “recruit." Private schools, unlike public schools, are not regulated by school districts to designate where its students and athletes come from. Many coaches, players, and fans claim this gives the private schools an unfair advantage.
“Most public schools have a down year or two within a twenty year period," said Steven Hoard, head coach of the Bradford Tornadoes (Fla.) in an October 13th NorthFloridaNewsDaily.com blog. "The advantages of a controlled enrollment, the ability to recruit players from other school zones through out the state, out of state recruitment, international recruitment and unlimited resources give many private schools a uneven advantage that is within the current rules of the FHSAA.”
Coach Hoard echoes many sentiments heard throughout many high school athletics communities. He agrees that the talent pool from which these private schools have to select from is much greater than that of a public school. This, in turn, leaves an uneven playing field and gives private schools a better chance of restocking talent for the following years. Over time, the players from this pool tend to gravitate towards the better football programs.
And recruiting problems are not just limited to football or private schools, there is also a recruiting issue in public schools as well.
The case of Martin Babovic, a foreign exchange student from Serbia, caused a major stir in the California Interscholastic Federation- Southern Section league very recently.
Babovic was a standout player on the Corona del Mar water polo team. CIF-SS officials deemed Babovic ineligible because of pre-enrollment contact. The contact took place between the host family and Babovic before he was enrolled in the foreign-exchange program through e-mails and phone calls. Officials saw this action as an “undue influence,” which broke CIR-SS regulations and ruled Babovic ineligible.
Some states have even taken measures to separate public and private schools. In Mississippi, for instance, private and public schools play under different state associations, and until the '07 season, were not allowed to even schedule or play one another. The only controversy at the end of the season was over who was the better team, the public champ or the private champ.
In order to find the facts, a study was done by the Ohio High School Athletic Association on public and private high school football teams. In Ohio, most of the private and public school teams play for the same state title.
The study showed that in '07, out of the 640 public school teams, 162 (25.3%) made the playoffs, 133-145 was the playoff record (47.8%) with only 17 (10.5%) schools that made it past round three of the playoffs. Meanwhile with private schools, out of 76 total schools, 30 (39.5%) reached the playoffs, 35-23 (60.3%) was the overall playoff record, and seven (23.5%) programs made it beyond round three.
The numbers indicate that there is a discernable difference in the success of the public and private school programs, but some state associations haven taken steps to reduce the potential for league or state dominance by a single school.
In one case, Concord De LaSalle, out of California, was kicked out of its league and forced to play a freelance schedule because the football team was too dominant. The CIF-SS had implemented rules for determining a team to be “too good." For example, the team had to make the CIF-SS five years consecutively, post a dominant win-loss record against league schools and have a vast majority of its wins be by an excessive margin during that five-year span.
But even with rules like these implemented, the debate over whether a team must leave a league will still be controversial.
The question of private vs. public will likely be talked about through the history of high school athletics. The fact remains that there is no right or wrong way to answer these questions. It seems like the only solution for coaches and players is to keep playing.
After all, high school football is more than just state titles and wins.
If you have any ideas for an upcoming spotlight story, e-mail editor Adam C. Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org.