Varsity Kansas

KSHSAA shares update on public-private high school sports dilemma after striking survey

In late March, Paola High School principal Jeff Hines sat at attention listening to Bill Faflick speak at the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s executive board meeting and heard something promising. He even wrote it down.

“This is step one,” Hines wrote, transcribing Faflick’s words. “It’s mission accomplished, but it doesn’t stop there.”

Between executive board meetings held in January and March in Topeka, KSHSAA brought in representatives from every private school in Kansas to discus the findings of a January survey that showed more than 87 percent of Kansas high schools want a change to the state’s public-private dynamic.

Hines was a driving force behind the survey, which posed several questions about the desired future of public-private competition in Kansas high school sports.

“KSHSAA knows in its heart of hearts that there is an issue,” Hines said. “How could they not when 87 percent of the schools are saying there is a problem?”

During the March meeting, Hines said Faflick outlined an example of a level playing field, one of the goals of the executive board.

Imagine a small Kansas town that fields a generational-type of team. If the team doesn’t believe at the start of the season that a state championship is within reach because of the public-private dynamic, something needs to change. Hines said he appreciated hearing Faflick share that example.

In July, Faflick said he did not believe the system was “totally broken,” but wanted to make sure student-athletes don’t “feel like they don’t have a chance.”

St. Thomas Aquinas’ Tyron Young scores a touchdown in the 3rd quarter of the 5A state title game against Wichita Northwest on Saturday in Pittsburg. Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle

After the March meeting, Faflick said the public-private discussion is “ongoing,” but KSHSAA has begun to research the issue more deeply.

“You can’t just go and change classifications,” Faflick said. “Ultimately, the goal for some would be to change that through classifications, but we aren’t even a full year into a new system. So it’s probably premature to say, ‘Before we are through the first cycle, let’s do something.’ But that doesn’t mean you don’t do anything. You study, and you try to understand the ramifications of potential changes and what is necessary for those changes to take place.”

The January survey outlined three potential changes for the public-private dynamic:

  • An enrollment multiplier that places a coefficient on top of all private schools’ enrollment, the model used in Missouri.
  • A success modifier that bumps any team up a class depending on the number of state championships it wins over a set number of years, the model used in Oklahoma.
  • A separate division for private schools, used in, among other states, Texas.

More than 36% of polled KSHSAA schools opted for an enrollment multiplier. About 13% voted for no change. Seven percent of the school polled were private.

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However, responses obtained by The Eagle from the February meeting of the KSHSAA private schools reflected a general sense that the survey was “biased.”

Hines said there are basically two routes: Conduct an independent survey that could take up to two years to finish, or empower the KSHSAA executive board or staff to draft a proposal that would go before the Kansas Legislature.

School enrollment is based on student attendance, according to Kansas state statute, unless a new proposal is presented and passed, Hines said.

“It’s the ‘chicken and the egg’ argument,” Hines said. “Who is going to move first: KSHSAA or the state legislature? It’s obvious that the state legislators are the ultimate decision-makers, and we have to have their blessing. So we need to do the work as a scholastic organization rather than the other way around.”

The process toward meaningful change between Kansas’ public and private high schools will likely be measured in years, not months, but Hines said he is ready to see the ball start moving.

KSHSAA Executive Director Bill Faflick
Bill Faflick took over the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) as executive director on July 1. Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

“Bill looks like he will be here for the long haul, so he has reason to act on this now,” Hines said. “Knowing the data that we have and the sense of urgency and the outcry from the member schools, I think that we have got somebody there that is willing to make that change happen.”

Faflick said this situation has not “developed overnight, nor will it be solved overnight,” but added that KSHSAA will continue to have meaningful conversations with all parties.

So far this schoolyear, private schools have competed for 46 state championships. Private schools have won 15 titles, or 32%; 14 have come from Classes 5A and 4A. There are no 6A private schools.

Responses from the private school meeting show more of an issue in Kansas’ higher classifications. The only state title won by a 3A or smaller private school this school year, so far, anyway, is Kansas City Christian’s girls tennis state championship.

“We may not all agree on the recommendation of what changes,” Hines said, “but I’m willing to try anything because the system we have now is not a level playing field. It is not a competitive postseason tournament in many classifications.”

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Wichita Eagle preps reporter Hayden Barber brings the area updates on all high school sports while adding those hard-to-find human-interest stories on Wichita’s student-athletes.