We Don’t Need a Success Multiplier

This week, the Illinois High School Association announced that nine sports teams elected to “play up” one classification from their usual class for this school year and next. The number of teams is the largest since the option to play up classification was introduced in 2009. 

St. Rita of Cascia of Chicago, a private school, has three teams playing up one classification: Boys basketball (to 4A), boys golf (to 3A), and wrestling (to 2A). John Marshall High of Chicago, a public school, is playing up one class in boys and girls basketball (both in 3A). Providence Catholic of New Lenox, another private school, is playing up to 3A in wrestling. Seton Academy of South Holland, another private, is playing up to 2A in boys basketball. De LaSalle Academy of Chicago, another private, is playing up to 4A in boys basketball.

East St. Louis’s football team, perennially a “play-up” team, will be in 7A. 

Each of these schools, especially the private ones, experienced enrollment declines. Marshall has been competitive in 3A basketball for years, and Seton has been competitive in 2A basketball recently – despite its State Finals controversy.

Kudos to these schools and teams for knowing where their competition is at, and for preserving these challenges for their athletes.

Below is a post which originally appeared on Northern Illinois Sports Beat on June 14, 2013.


What if you had the power to determine which level of the playoffs your team will compete in?

Just like East St. Louis football, Illinois’s winningest prep gridiron program.

When it comes to the Flyers, forget about ineligible transfers and things like that which have put a black eye on the program. What is impressive about the success that they have recently put up is that they are being successful in a different area than what they “should” be in.

They “should” have been in Class 6A in the past few years. With an enrollment this year of 1,438 students, that “should” mean the Flyers are solidly in the middle of 6A.

East St. Louis has participated in Class 7A all of this time – a class that is made up largely of competition from far more resourceful Chicagoland schools.

At one time, East St. Louis’s enrollment put them on the bottom end of the 7A ranks. However, an enrollment decline (a problem for the city for the past 50 years) bumped them down into the next-lowest class in 2009.

By that time, the Illinois High School Association’s class-expansion wave, which started in 2007, was in full swing. With many more classifications of play in the picture, the IHSA created a provision which offered any Illinois high school athletic team to play up one level in classification.

East St. Louis’s football team isn’t the only sports program to take advantage of this opportunity.

When the provision started, the boys golf teams from Chicago Christian in Palos Heights (1A to 2A) and St. Viator in Arlington Heights (2A to 3A) chose to play up one level of classification. However, after the 2010-11 school year, both teams chose to go back to its normal class.

Since then, a new sport-specific classification rule was established by the IHSA Board of Directors in the summer of 2011. Also new to the fold was the sport-specific private school waiver opportunity, passed in 2011 by the IHSA member schools after years of unsuccessful tries.

The boys basketball team of Chicago’s St. Rita of Cascia fell into the 3A field after having been granted a multiplier waiver, based on the fact that they haven’t won a regional championship in the past five years. In fact, the Mustang program has only won three regionals in its history: in 1982, 2000 and 2003, and all done falling short of a sectional title.

The Mustangs finished 16-11 in 2012 and 19-8 this past season without regional titles. St. Rita chose to stay in 4A. They fell to DuSable 54-52 in its own regional final on March 1, and fell 64-56 to Whitney Young in the 2012 regional final at Young.

If you don’t include the competitive cheerleading programs from downstate Mt. Carmel and East Alton-Wood River, the “play up” tally includes one public school and three private schools. Also remember that the three private schools have already seen its enrollment figure inflated by the IHSA’s 1.65 Multiplier.

East St. Louis’s football team and St. Rita’s boys basketball team have set an example for wanting to challenge themselves. Worth noting, the IHSA’s motto reflects what these two programs have done: “Challenge yourself.”

Several prep sports teams exist in Illinois that have proven to be successful in recent years, and provoke this thought: “Why don’t they choose play up a class?”

When the girls basketball team from Quincy Notre Dame won two straight Class 2A titles in 2011 and 2012, that thought ran rampant among critics statewide given its athletic talent and its schedule strength. Then the Lady Raiders were bumped up to 3A due to enrollment, not by choice, and proceeded to win the 3A championship in February.

In 2010, Boylan’s football team won it all in Class 6A. Despite a small enrollment dropoff, the Titans competed in Class 7A the following year due to classification, and not by choice, and proceeded to win it all once more.

Even public schools have proven that playing up a class doesn’t make the path tougher. Dakota’s volleyball team, after winning Class 1A in 2011, had a small enrollment bump that pushed them across the cutoff line into 2A. The Indians went on to take second place in 2012.

Morris’s football team went from being the Class 5A runner-up in 2004 to becoming the Class 6A champion the following year.

Four teams, including two area teams, have proven that the next class up isn’t all that scary. That’s proof that having a forced success multiplier rule doesn’t make things any tougher on schools that have achieved success.

So what is the point for bringing it up?

Washington superintendent and principal Jim Dunnan brought the idea up during the IHSA Football Advisory Committee meeting in November. Then again on June 10 during the IHSA Board of Directors’ monthly meeting. At the latter meeting, the Board approved a recommendation to form a committee to review the implementation of a “success factor” formula.

According to the minutes of the Football Advisory Committee in December, “Dunnan delivered a report regarding the Class 5A disparity in non-public school title game dominance of that class over the past 13 years.”

“We are beginning to see ‘success factors’ or ‘tradition factors’ being considered or implemented as a part of the formula to determine school classifications at several state associations around the country,” stated IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman in a press release. “Dr. Dunnan presented the Board with some well thought-out ideas, and ultimately, the Board felt like forming a committee to further explore this subject was worthwhile.”

In the past 12 years (since football’s expansion from six to eight classes), private schools have won 11 state championships in Class 5A. The exception was Metamora’s win in 2007. Joliet Catholic, New Lenox Providence, Sacred Heart-Griffin, Wheaton St. Francis and Montini have won the other 11 championships. Montini has won the past four titles.

Only one Class 5A title game win has been a shutout: Providence’s 42-0 win over Pontiac in 2002. The only other 5A title game decided by more than two touchdowns was Montini’s 70-45 win over Joliet Catholic in 2011.


Dominance would be Montini blowing out every opponent in the playoffs in winning its state titles. This past year, only one of Montini’s playoff games was decided by more than two touchdowns: its 54-13 opening-round win against Midlothian Bremen. Sycamore came within two points from stopping the streak, but fell 24-22 in the second round.

Notice we’re still talking about football here, because that was Dunnan’s focus. Whether or not examples were made in other sports, such as girls basketball or wrestling (two of Montini’s other successful sports), are not known.

The only “dominance” that exists is that of the accumulation of state championship trophies each year.

If the state championship trophy has become the point of the need to change everything, then we have a serious problem in Illinois high school sports.

If the state championship trophy has become the point of the need to change everything, then we have forgotten about the primary purpose of these particular extra-curricular offerings: and that is an educational experience. When the statements on the public address system mention something about an “extension of the classroom,” it’s not just filler statements or a warm-up paragraph for the announcer’s voice.

In recent years, especially after 2007’s class expansion wave, we have seen an increase in student transfers from one high school to another. With that general increase is the increase of sports-related transfers.

Having a success multiplier will eventually pave the way for other, less fortunate schools to add to its trophy cases. This also creates the opportunity for more athletic transfers, judging on the strength of a certain team with potential. It has also increased the desire for winning against the educational setting.

While the proposal does absolutely nothing to stop the bleeding that is the increase of athletic-related transfers, an even bigger problem would come up if this were to take place.

That is a public-private split within the IHSA.

I would sure hope that Dunnan isn’t paving the way for a football team or two to be in a situation that Brentwood Academy of Tennessee was in nearly 20 years ago. In a five-class football playoff system, Brentwood – whose enrollment figure would have meant playing in Class 2A – played up to 5A and kept on winning, taking home the 5A title in 1995. This was one of the prime factors in Tennesee’s public-private split.

By forcibly bumping up successful teams that have a tenancy to reload instead of rebuild, you give them a reason to find a way to come back and compete. As mentioned before, Quincy Notre Dame girls basketball, Boylan football, Dakota volleyball and Morris football are four teams that have proven that the step up is not a fatal blow to a program’s goals and determinations.

East St. Louis football has proven to be competitive in Class 7A as well.

Going back to a splitting scenario in Illinois: If this is done, the classifications and tournament structures would be unique enough to where all of the less-fortunate private school teams would have to find a way to compete with the more successful ones. In turn, this would exponentially push the gap between publics and privates to a whole new level. And if you do split publics and privates in just postseason competition, privates in public conferences would create more of a dominance gap.

Such a split would decimate Chicagoland public sports programs that have the potential of losing athletes to more stronger means of athletic competition in the private school setting. While this could increase the enrollments of private schools, it also increase the potential for undesirables in the religious sense in their hallways.

So the rosters would grow to epic proportions, but issues such as negotiations for playing time and the like would redistribute the bodies to the other, closer private schools.

Also, areas not effected by private school influence would feast on the shells of the rest come postseason.

Privates would crush publics if a split were to occur. The quality of public sports competition would be at an all-time low. Then comes, between that large gap between public and private, the rise of club volleyball, ASA softball and other non-school-associated sports competition for those who don’t feel challenged and attend public schools (because of many reasons, including finances).

This would bring about something that has been feared for many years in the IHSA: The demise of school sports and the rise of club sports.

If state champions – dynasties, that is – were dominating every game en route to their trophies, then it would be a problem. But that’s not happening in Illinois. The “domination” only exists in the form of the accumulation of trophies, in particular those that read “state champions”. Hence obsession with winning increases and the will to learn decreases.

High school sports is an educational experience outside of the traditional classroom setting. Let’s keep it that way. Schools can say all they want about stuffed trophy cases increasing student morale, but stuffed trophy cases do not bring schools an increase in state aid from Springfield. Whether you’re 14-0 or 0-9, no season is a failure. Those are just numbers.

We don’t need a “success multiplier” in the IHSA. It distorts more than it helps.


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