In two-decade reversal, OHSAA will charge member dues

Kyle Rowland, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·4 min read

May 4—More changes are coming for Ohio high schools.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday to collect membership dues beginning with the 2021-22 school year, a reversal from the OHSAA's policy the previous 23 years.

The measure was approved by a 9-0 vote, signaling that each high school must pay $50 per OHSAA-sanctioned sport to be eligible for the state tournament.

"I have received favorable feedback from the majority of the administrators with whom I have conversed at our member schools," OHSAA executive director Doug Ute said. "Levying membership dues does not change our mission, which is to serve our member schools and enrich interscholastic opportunities for students."

The positive messages Ute referenced, and the unanimous board decision, does not stretch to each corner of the state. The OHSAA isn't the only group that suffered financial insecurities as a result of the pandemic. Individual high schools and athletic departments have been in the crosshairs because of significantly decreased capacities for home sporting events.

"I strongly believe in the services the OHSAA offers. There are great benefits to extracurricular activities for student-athletes," said Archbold superintendent Jayson Selgo, the president of the OHSAA's Northwest District Athletics Board. "But I also recognize that a lot of school districts — our's included — have been negatively impacted over the past year.

"It's very tough timing to throw another financial expense at local schools that in a lot of cases were unable to make a lot of revenue. There are very few athletic departments across the state that are self-sufficient. And when you have capacity at 15, 20, and 25 percent, you aren't going to come close to covering your expenses."

This isn't the first time the OHSAA has instituted a change aimed at filling its depleted coffers. In April, they expanded the football playoffs. The extra round of games — 224 in all — will result in a $4 million windfall for the OHSAA.

The OHSAA has traditionally relied on tournament ticket sales for about 80 percent of its revenue, a model that Ute says is no longer sustainable, especially after the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of winter and spring sport championships in 2020.

There are about 820 member schools, with dues producing about $600,000 for the OHSAA. Dues will range from $300 to $1,300 per school, depending on the number of OHSAA-sanctioned sports. The OHSAA Finance Committee will review possible modifications to the dues structure annually. Dues will not exceed $100 per sport.

"Levying membership dues will give us a steady line of income since many of our other lines are variable," Ute said. "It will help us build a new, more sustainable revenue model. That model, which will help ensure our long-term sustainability, will be a combination of a wider variety of income streams — including these dues — and continued better management of our expenses."

In a letter to administrators, Ute indicated that if a time comes where dues can be adjusted in the opposite direction, the OHSAA will do so. Schools will no longer pay any tournament fees, bowling lineage fees, golf green fees, or wrestling weight management fees.

Student scholarships will be reinstated during the 2021-22 school year and catastrophic insurance coverage for all student-athletes, cheerleaders, student managers, and student athletic trainers during in-season and OHSAA tournament practices and contests will continue to be provided at no cost to member schools. No membership dues will be levied against member seventh- and eighth-grade schools.

It remains unclear if ticket revenue and travel expenses will be shared. During the 2020-21 school year, the OHSAA kept all day-of-game postseason ticket money and did not help schools with travel. Some schools lost out on as much as $20,000.

"Everyone from the top down is dealing with a budget crisis. I get it. They're hurting the same way we are," Perrysburg athletic director Chuck Jaco said. "However, to implement this going into next year when we're all coming off of horrendous budget situations, could there have been another way to do it? Could they have increased ticket prices a couple bucks? Could they have waited until the following year? Let us get back on our feet. Give me a full football season."

The amount of money most schools will spend is equivalent to two sets of uniforms. The financial fallout could include some schools opting not to let their teams compete in the postseason, especially if they aren't competitive, a nightmare scenario for the OHSAA. And there will almost certainly be a rise in pay-to-play fees.

To compensate for budget shortfalls, schools will have to rely on booster organizations and private donors. But that directs money elsewhere when it could be used on other projects.

"[Pay-to-play] is not a good solution because you discourage opportunities for kids," Selgo said. "Could that be a result? Absolutely. I hope most administrators do not resort to that. It would be incredibly unfortunate for the experience of the student-athletes."