Chris Oaks spoke with Jerry Snodgrass, newly-named executive director of the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Q: I know you have long considered this to be your “dream job.” What are you most looking forward to as you move into this new role as head of the OHSAA?
A: Knowing that I’m only the 10th commissioner (as the position used to be known) in the 100-plus year history of this organization, I have a lot to live up to. So, I guess I would have to say I’m looking forward to carrying on many of the great things that have been done over the years, while at the same time looking to a future full of change. I want to help our schools provide opportunities for kids through the efforts of not only coaches and administrators, but also fans and supporters.
Q: With the changing landscape of high school athletics, what do you see as the biggest challenge you will face?
A: Probably the biggest challenge continues to be the public vs. private debate. Which, to be honest, is now more about open enrollment across every school. Students can now transfer to any school, public or private, for any reason, which adds an incredible wrinkle when it comes to how that affects the balance of athletic competitiveness.
Prior to this year, the divisional breakdown was based on enrollment numbers alone. Now it’s only one component of the formula, which also attempts to better account for the impact of transfers into and out of a school and the way that impacts their competitiveness in all sports.
These rules were several years in the making, and it’s worth noting that, in the case of basketball for example, many of the schools people believed should move up to a higher division due to competitive imbalance under the old rules, did indeed move up and made deep runs in the state tournament in their new division.
So, early evidence is that these changes have been a step in the right direction. But it’s a moving target that we’ll continue to look at and adjust accordingly.
Q: For many districts, budget constraints have led to cutbacks in all extracurricular activities, including sports. Many have implemented a “pay-to-participate” policy that some view as a significant barrier to student participation. How do you address the concern over the rising cost of athletic programs?
A: Great question. It’s not our role to provide financial resources to schools, but I do think whenever we implement programs, change rules or sponsor tournaments, we need to do everything we can to minimize or even reduce expenses to member schools. That can take many forms, even a form of revenue-sharing. We currently do that. Northwest Ohio has a great model. We need to continue to do that in order to meet our mission statement of helping schools provide those opportunities to students.
Q: High school athletics are not just about students. You recently posted on social media about the concern over an aging population of officials across all sports. How do you continue to recruit young officials to step into that role?
A: The average age of officials in most of the sports we sanction is 50 or above. We are rapidly approaching a time when many of those men and women will step away from the game.
The first part is to impress upon fans how difficult the job is and that officials deserve to be respected. The reality is that constant, and in many cases unfair criticism has exacerbated the problem by turning good officials away and discouraging others from becoming officials.
Secondly, we need to provide more opportunities for people who would consider filling that need to get the appropriate training. And that may involve thinking outside the box.
For example, there are eight schools in Ohio now offering classes for students to obtain officiating licenses for high school credit. They can start out officiating youth and middle school games, and in the future move up to the varsity level.
Q: Officials aren’t the only ones who have felt the weight of unrealistic expectations and heightened scrutiny. Coaches, and even student athletes themselves deal with that, too. To what extent is the media to blame? Not only is there so much more widespread coverage of high school sports, the level of that coverage is becoming so sophisticated that it’s getting harder to distinguish between high school, college and even professional athletics. Are those lines being blurred? And to what extent do you consider that when evaluating how the media is permitted access to cover high school sports?
A: What an interesting insight. It’s a fair analysis that sometimes we perhaps become our own worst enemy. We want that coverage of our hometown kids and their sports teams. That’s a good thing, but you are exactly correct in the observation that every coaching move, every shot, every call is captured and can end up on some form of media — from social media all the way up to ESPN SportsCenter.
And everyone can weigh in with their comments. So we do need to remember the level of athletics we’re talking about, and it is important to keep in perspective that not every quarterback is Ben Roethlisberger, not every coach is Urban Meyer and the officials are not working NFL or NBA games or the World Cup.
Sure, everyone wants to win the game, win a conference title or bring home a state championship. Again, we want that competitiveness and that fan involvement. That’s a good thing. But in the end, kids won’t play, coaches won’t coach and officials won’t officiate if participating in sports is not enjoyable.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 419-422-4545.