Emma Grimshaw

Emma Grimshaw hoists the Class 2 state volleyball championship plaque for

St. Pius X in 2017.

Private and public school administrators across the state in May overwhelmingly voted to subtract the enrollment multiplier for classifying private schools in high school sports.

Since the 2002-2003 school year, the Missouri State High School Activities Association multiplied private-school enrollment by 1.35 in an effort to create a more balanced playing field with public schools. Single-gender schools are subject to a double multiplier.

Jason West, communications director for MSHSAA, said the multiplier had run its course. All private and public school members voted 294-133 in favor of the measure.

“What our membership was looking for is there was a thought on the public school side that the multiplier wasn’t doing enough to bridge the gap between what the resources a private school might have against what a public school doesn’t have,” West said. “In the discussions that took place that became more of a theme that the multiplier wasn’t doing what it was intended for anymore.”

Replacing the multiplier, starting with the 2020-2021 school year, will be a playoff points system designed to provide competitive equity between private and public schools.

“We have a year to prepare for it. We’ve got our annual meeting with (National Federation of State High Schools) next week,” West said. “We’ll start in July getting that information put together so (MSHSAA’s board) can see what it looks like for classification purposes.”

While the multiplier was a blanket thrown over every sport at private schools in terms of classification, the competitive equity system will “reward” the schools that have more postseason success by moving them up into higher classes.

Teams will be classified based on points accumulated under a retrospective six-year block of competition. The jumping-off point begins this coming school year and reaches back to the 2014-2015 school year. A district championship will be worth one point. No points are awarded for winning sectional or quarterfinal games because not all sports have those rounds of competition. Teams that finish in the final four of any sport are awarded two points. Teams that finish second receive three points and the state champions get four points. The playoff system is capped at four points, so if a team wins a title, the other wins along the way don’t count.

Sports like cross country, track and field, golf and tennis, which have individual as well as team champions, only receive team points. Individual finishes aren’t factored in.

“The goal was to make sure we were consistent from sport to sport,” said Doug Kuhlmann, who was part of an ad-hoc committee for MSHSAA that examined how best to replace the multiplier system. Joining Kuhlmann were four other private-school athletic directors from across the state. Kuhlmann was the AD at Lutheran-St. Charles for 10 years, but left that job this spring to become the assistant head of school. Lutheran is in St. Peters.

“Calling it a success factor is incorrect,” Kuhlmann said. “It’s a competitive equity model because as we look at it, success can be defined in a number of ways. Our aim was to provide a proposal to safeguard that competitive equity between non-public and public high schools for the state playoffs.”

The Suburban Conference took a similar approach last year when it scrapped its traditional conferences and set up a pool system based on wins and losses over a three-year period. The goal was the same: to stop blowouts and create more competitive balance.

Kuhlmann said the Archdiocesan Athletic Association, in which Lutheran-St. Charles competes, will begin a similar competitive-balance system of league play this August, with schools split into two divisions.

“We had two metrics: qualitative and quantitative,” Kuhlmann said about the change in the AAA. “We looked at team records, who they’re playing, did they advance in playoffs and their strengths in their lower levels. It was a lot easier than we anticipated to classify our teams.”

MSHSAA set up its ad-hoc committee on the multiplier in 2018. Last year meetings were held in St. Louis and Kansas City to explain the mechanics of competitive equity to administration and ADs for all of the non-public schools in the state. That information was taken back to the coaches at those schools.

“The weird part about this is the general public considers this (only) a proposal. It’s not,” Kuhlmann said. “It’s a new bylaw for the entire state. It’s a done deal for 2020. If there’s any confusion, it’s the specific nuances and points systems and how they’re determined for non-public schools. I use that term because this covers charter, private and parochial schools.”

Teams could move up as many as two classes depending on how many points they accrue. Conversely, if a team is moved from Class 2 to Class 4 and begins a downward trend of play, it might move back down. Kuhlmann said when teams move up one or two classes, automatically the same number of teams move down. The cascading system affects every team every year.

I asked Kuhlmann if public schools should start the same classification system.

“At an area meeting a couple of years ago, the championship factor was discussed that applied to public and private schools and it got mixed results from all sections of our state,” he said.

The ad hoc committee looked at how other states were handling the private-public competitive balance. Illinois uses a multiplier of 1.65 for all private, charter and parochial schools, but Missouri’s next-door neighbor also allows for a waiver if non-boundary schools have not had success in the postseason for two straight years.

“The success factor would have school teams of non-boundary schools be moved up one classification if that team wins two state trophies the previous two school years,” said Craig Anderson, executive director of the Illinois High School Association, in an email.

St. Pius X in Crystal City, the only private school of the 12 high schools in Jefferson County, had 219 students for the 2018-2019 school year. Multiplying that by 1.35 meant that MSHSAA classified the Lancers based on an enrollment of 296.

St. Pius president Jim Lehn, after discussing the matter with athletic director Tilden Watson and others at the school, voted in favor of the new bylaw.

“We voted for the championship factor rationale because we think it’s a step in the right direction for athlete safety,” Lehn said. “MSHSAA did a good job of looking into this and bringing very qualified people who understand the private vs. public dynamics.

“I was happy to see we’re moving away from a carte blanche multiplier,” he added. “This is a step in the right direction. This new process could be used for public schools too. We should probably look at those schools as well.”

St. Pius fields teams in 15 sports (football, boys soccer, boys and girls cross country, softball, volleyball, girls tennis, boys and girls basketball, baseball, boys and girls track and field, boys golf, boys tennis and girls soccer) and they’re not all in the same class. The tennis teams and the girls soccer team are in Class 1, but the boys soccer team is Class 2. The football team is Class 2 and the baseball team is Class 3. Both basketball teams competed this past year in Class 3. As you can see, the Lancers are all over the board when it comes to competition.

Of all the sports at St. Pius, the girls volleyball team has had the most success on the state level. The Lancers reached the final four every year from 2010 to 2017 and won Class 2 state titles in 2011, 2016 and 2017. St. Pius was second in the state in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2015. Given their six-year block of success, the Lancers could move up to Class 4 next year.

The St. Pius tennis teams are both coming off of back-to-back district championships and could be in line to move from Class 1 to Class 2 by 2020.

“The multiplier affected every sport in our school,” Watson said. “We had a volleyball team that went to the final four eight straight years and the other teams that weren’t doing as well were getting penalized. This will allow my other teams to play at a more equal level. I like this better than the multiplier because it affects individual sports, not the whole school.”

Ultimately, the new system is tied to another proposal that was passed, 376-51, in MSHSAA’s annual election in May. The sports and activity classification bylaw restructures the procedures for sport and activity classifications for district tournaments and the state playoffs. New classes could be added to football and basketball, which currently have six and five respectively.

There have been other suggestions for leveling the public-private playing field. West said a few years ago, officials from Park Hills Central suggested creating a state playoff system that completely separated the public and private schools.

“That didn’t have any legs. The majority of the member schools didn’t think we needed to have two championships,” West said.

“This is more of a preemptive move by the private schools, so it’s kind of a compromise.”