Michigan High School Division Re-alignment Concept Proposal

Created June 10, 2010 by Steve Stanley, member MHSTeA
This proposal is offered as a starting point for discussion and modification, not as a final concept.

In the second year of serving on MHSAA tennis committee, I wrote a letter expressing my concern that economically disadvantaged tennis players were subject to institutional discrimination (Attachment A - click here to read) because of the rules limiting interaction with their high school coaches.   I still believe there continues to be institutional discrimination against economically disadvantaged players/schools in this state.  While there is a limitation placed on high school players interacting with their high school coaches there is no comparable limitation on players who use the resources of non-high school coaches.  

The only written or verbal response from MHSAA to my concerns was a verbal question at the end of the tennis committee meeting when another committee member asked if I had a suggested remedy.  My response at the time was that I had only been coaching for two years and didn’t have the experience to offer a remedy and would need to rely upon the expertise of those with more years working in the realm of high school tennis.  None were forthcoming.

I have now been working in the field for seven years, shepherded my team to a championship in division four, two fourth place finishes and a finalist finish this past (spring 2010) season.  I have also come to the realization the divisions for regional and state competitions do not represent a fair and equal opportunity for all schools.

It is my belief that the breakdown of divisions in MHSAA based upon school size stems from the concept of fairness and objectiveness.  It would seem logical that schools of larger size would have a greater chance of attracting quality players to a sport than schools of smaller size.  There is nothing more objective than counting heads to determine which school belongs in which division.  However, in the sport of tennis the number of students enrolled in a school has very little correlation to the quality of tennis player attending that school.  Schools with large populations may have very high quality tennis players in attendance and schools of the same size my have very poor quality tennis players.  At the same time, schools with small student populations may have very high quality tennis players and other schools of the same size have very poor quality players.  The difference in the number of quality tennis players in attendance rather than being a function of school population size is a function of monetary resources and the availability of indoor tennis facilities nearby.

The net result is that schools who have players with economic means and indoor tennis facilities nearby hold an insurmountable advantage over schools without those two characteristics.  Williamston was able to succeed because we had one and then two players who were elite tournament participants on our team when we finished first fourth, then first, then fourth and then second from 2007-2010.   It was a pleasure to compete when on an even playing field.

The reality of MHSAA tennis is the bifurcation of Michigan high school tennis into the two basic camps of have (elite players) and have not (non-elite players).   Consistently the top ten teams in each division possess elite players and those outside the top ten do not.  Players attending schools without elite players have to find motivations other than striving for state championships to participate in MHSAA tennis activities.  This need not be the case.  

It is proposed that the current four divisions for MHSAA tennis continue but the criteria for each division be changed to the following. 

Division one:  The upper half of schools based on population with at least one elite player* on their team eligibility roster. 

Division two: The lower half of schools based on population with at least one elite player* on their team eligibility roster.

Division three:  The upper half of schools based on population with no elite players* on their team eligibility roster.

Division four: The lower half of schools based on population with no elite players* on their team eligibility roster.

*An elite player is defined as a player who has EVER competed in a Level 5 or higher level (Level 4, Level 3, etc.) USTA sanctioned tournament in any age group; or in more than four (4) Level 6 or lower level USTA sanctioned tournaments within the 12-month period ending with the first day of team practices.

The precedent for separate divisions for elite competitors has been established by MHSAA in gymnastics.  The following is from the MHSAA Gymnastics Rulebook:

            “Criteria for Determining the CATEGORY in which a gymnast will compete:
            Division I Gymnasts
            A gymnast who has EVER competed in a non-school competition at the USAG Level 9 or above, USAIGC – Intermediate Optional Level or the USAIGC Open Optional Level, or Y Program at Level 9 or competed in the AAU-Michigan qualifying meet judged at Level 9.
            A gymnast who has competed in USAG Optional 8 or USAIGC Developmental
Optional Level or Level 8 equivalent Y Program since Jan. 1, 2008.

            Division II Gymnasts
            All other gymnasts will be considered Division II competitors.
            NOTE: A Division II gymnast can choose to compete in Division I regardless of her experience. The decision must be made before the entry form is submitted to the Regional Manager.  The designation of Division I or Division II MUST appear on the Team and Individual Qualifier Forms for each gymnast entered in the MHSAA Tournament Series and CANNOT be changed after the entry due date.”

Schools may request placement in division II if circumstances change for a competitor.  A similar appeal could be provided should a team’s elite player(s) become injured or ineligible during the season. 

Should these become the criteria for placement in the four divisions, schools with elite players will continue to have fierce competition for regional and state titles.  For schools with elite players very little will change from the existing experience except they will be compressed into two divisions rather than spread out into four divisions. 

For the schools without elite players it will be like a forest being cleared and the sunshine of opportunity shining brightly on their programs.  Teams without elite players will have the opportunity to work hard, develop their skills with existing resources and have the chance to vie with other like schools for regional and state titles.  No longer will the glory of MHSAA tennis be the sole realm of those with money and indoor facilities nearby.

Attachment A

Three Questions for the MHSAA Tennis Committee number 180  (January 2007)

Question 1.  Is there a competitive advantage created by the MSHAA three (now four) player, summer dead period, the prohibition for sport specific courses, and the prohibition of opposite sex player participation rules for those schools that have players wealthy enough to afford private coaches?

Question 2.  Do the MSHAA three (now four) player, summer dead period, the prohibition for sport specific courses, and the prohibition of opposite sex player participation rules create institutional discrimination against financially disadvantaged individual players pursuing tennis scholarships and careers?

Question 3.  If the answer is yes to either or both of the above questions, what remedy does the MHSAA Tennis Committee number 180 offer to financially disadvantaged students and their schools?


1.  Financially advantaged students may pursue tennis training during the off season unhindered by the MHSAA rules through memberships and lessons at private tennis clubs.

2.  Financially advantaged students may attend summer clinics throughout the summer unhindered by the MHSAA rules conducted by universities, private tennis clubs and private tennis academies.

3.  Financially disadvantaged students are prohibited from attending cost effective lessons conducted by their coaches except at costly rates created by limiting the participating players to three (now four) during the off season by the MHSAA three (now four) player rule.

4.  Financially disadvantaged students are effectively prohibited from attending cost effective clinics by MHSAA dead period rules.  The new dead period rules effectively reduce the number of available cost effective clinics from 9 to 7 weeks effective June 2007.

5.  The net effect of these MHSAA rules has been to create a competitive disadvantage for financially disadvantaged students and the schools they attend.  This reality is confirmed by the fact that in the 27 years of state competition in division 4 girls’ tennis no public school has ever won the championship.  Not surprisingly, only three schools have ever won the championship in girls’ division 4 tennis.  (Bloomfield Hills Kingswood Cranbrook once, Grosse Point University Liggett 19 times, and Detroit Country Day 7 times.)  This result cannot be attributed only to those schools’ girls possessing superior natural talents and coaches with exceptional skills.  Rather it is because these girls have access to tennis training resources.  Financially disadvantaged students are denied sufficient opportunities to compensate for those tennis training resources by MHSAA rules by limiting MHSAA coaches contact with those students.

6.  The MHSAA rule prohibiting participation by opposite sex high school tennis players also contributes to the inability of financially disadvantaged students.  This rule prohibits the free assistance opposite sex players could provide during practices conducted by MHSAA coaches.
Players and schools with financial resources can provide abundant private resources for tennis skill development.

7.  The MHSAA rule prohibiting sport specific course work will end a free program offered to prepare tennis players to become USPTA or USTA professionals.  This is yet another way the MHSAA has found to discriminate against financially disadvantaged youth from getting ahead in the sport of tennis.

8.  Especially public schools have a unique role to play in providing equal opportunity to all students.  The MHSAA rules prevent the offering of such opportunities by MHSAA coaches and therefore, runs counter to that mission.