Ute on: Pickleball, environment, all-in football


It’s always interesting when members of the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association get together in person for our annual meeting at the Ohio High School Athletic Association office in Columbus.

We get to meet with Doug Ute, executive director of the OHSAA.

And the OPSWA membership asks plenty of questions, both to Ute and Tim Stried, who is the director of media relations for the OHSAA.

Among the items discussed, in no particular order or preference:

• Membership in the OPSWA is “as good as it’s ever been.”

But numbers don’t always equate to action. We were told there were more than 200 members of the OPSWA but approximately 65 of them voted for the Mr. Basketball award. Even fewer voted for the weekly statewide football and boys and girls basketball polls. To be fair, the polls are an Associated Press award but many OPSWA members are member of AP as well.

There was talk about doing away with the team polls. Seems there were fewer than 20 voters in Ohio for the polls. Some felt that wasn’t a good enough representation of who the best teams were, so it might be better to stop the polls, an annual rite of the AP for nearly 100 years.

I would be in favor of doing away with the polls. I am old school, for sure, and the voting in the polls has been a proud part of my job since I started full-time in 1987.

Less than 20 voters isn’t good enough to keep it going but I’m more inclined to follow former WNJ sports writer Shawn Robinson, who says “polls are dumb” and move on without them regardless of numbers.

• Ute said a “big focus” for the OHSAA is the environment at any and all athletic events. He talked about two water bottles being thrown at officials working an event, with one of those hitting a student. Safety aside, which is not to say it isn’t important, but Ute noted “the number one reason officials are getting out or not getting in is the environment.” Ute said the OHSAA would meet with administrators, officials and students, taking bits and pieces from each meeting and putting together a “tool kit” to help improve the in-game experience. With so many events being available online, fewer people attending games in-person is costing schools money.

• Ute said the site for state championship games is all about the kids. Cost to the OHSAA is factored in to this decision but is not the No. 1 priority.

“We want our kids to have a ‘wow factor’ when they get off the bus,” he said. “We want to get to a place where our kids are treated like gold, where the community wants us and gives our kids a major league experience.”

Ohio State is the top choice in most cases. It works for wrestling and track and field. Tennis is moving back to OSU for the foreseeable future because of construction at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ute said.

But football and basketball isn’t like to get back to Columbus soon. With basketball it’s about scheduling. The Ohio State women’s basketball team hosted NCAA tournament games when the OHSAA boys and girls basketball finals were scheduled.

As for football, well it’s many things.

“The (Pro Football) Hall of Fame (in Canton) is generous price wise, the Stark County community wants our athletes there,” Ute said.

Ute said Canton and Dayton (site of basketball championships) are at the end of contracts and are favorites to get an extension because they are good partners with the OHSAA.

• Ute said talks with college coaches around the state and more days are being added the football schedule. So, from May 15 to July 31 coaches and players can meet for 13 days. Add to that the five days of acclimation, and football coaches/players could meet 18 total days leading up to the official start of practice.

But having time off — coaches and players alike — is very important, in Ute’s mind.

“This is an around the calendar job any more,” Ute said. “Coaches need time with their families. Kids need a break from their coaches., even the good coaches. Hopefully that’s the way it works. We’ll see.”

• NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) is always a hot topic. Ute said the social media opportunities are not fair for athletes.

“Where do you draw that line,” he said. “A (high school) kid can make 80 cents a like on Instagram but they can’t do that if they’re an athlete. I’m not a social media person. I didn’t run a school district based on what people were saying on social media and I’m not going to run this organization based on social media. But social media does offer opportunities to do some things. It’s their (students) time to earn some money.”

• Ute said pickleball has been discussed as a possible high school sport. Ute said he encouraged those who want pickleball added to the list of sports offered to go through the building process and make their case at the appropriate time.

• Girls wrestling was a smash hit in its first year of competition as an OHSAA sport. There is talk of making two divisions in the future.

• Football is the only sport that does not allow all participating schools to be involved in the post-season. There is talk of that, though. A regular season could be made up of eight weeks then the post-season follows, Ute said. A concern is the money a school would lose for not having a home game. Ute said the first two weeks of the playoffs could be a split game situation where each team keeps have the gate receipts after expenses.

In addition, those team who lose in Week 9 could schedule a game in Week 10 and potentially get back money then.

Ute said allowing all teams in the post-season for football would ease scheduling as well as the desire to win as many games as possible. He noted a school had to schedule a team from Canada because schools within a 20 minute drive wouldn’t play them.

Also, because a team has to worry less about being 10-0 or 9-1 to make the post-season, Ute said going to 16 teams in the playoffs has allowed one coach to “get my kids their quarters, then get my younger kids in” the game. Going to an all-in post-season would allow more teams to play younger kids without worrying about jeopardizing their playoff future.

Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email [email protected] or on Twitter @wnjsports

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