“Education through sport” is the motto and the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) is sticking to its strategic plan and vision to foster student success and well-being through school sport.
According to an obtained copy of the 2021 order paper, the provincial federation, comprised of 18 regional school associations and responsible for 38 provincial championships, is looking to introduce two motions aimed at prohibiting its member schools from participating against prep schools and its student-athletes.
Once the crown jewel of Ontario high school basketball, the provincial organization is looking to remain relevant and adapt as demand for elite competition and performance-based training, has outpaced the traditional sports by education school model.
New rules in response to Crestwood Prep winning OFSAA
The proposed new rules are in response to Toronto’s Crestwood Preparatory College and their ability, to eligibly and compliantly, field teams in both OFSAA’s Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association (CISAA) as well as participate in the recently created Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA).
Additionally, one of the main reasons why Crestwood Prep kept its CISAA eligibility, was, so they could play in various high school basketball tournaments in the United States of America. Current rules, require teams to be OFSAA eligible to participate in certain US tournaments.
Crestwood, a team that featured multiple graduating NCAA division one prospects and returns Canadian phenom Elijah Fisher, the top player in the 2023 class — cruised past the OFSAA competition to win the 2020 AAA provincial championship.
According to sources, Crestwood’s championship victory triggered a sequence of events by multiple parties to introduce the following two motions to be voted on at the upcoming 2021 General Assembly Meeting, scheduled for May 3-4.
Proposed Team/School Eligibility Motion
Page D-2, Section: 5 (a) –Team/School Eligibility
- WHEREAS: OFSAA promotes equal opportunities and fair interschool competition;
- AND WHEREAS some high school teams are playing several games against prep teams and this has an effect on properly determining seeding for OFSAA championships;
- AND WHEREAS due to geography and resources, not all teams have the opportunity to play prep teams;
- AND WHEREAS the high school system and the prep system are two distinct entities with different philosophies and missions.”
BE IT RESOLVED THAT a new (iv) reads as follows:
“Any school team that competes, during the same school year, against a team who is member of the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA) or National Preparatory Association (NPA) forfeits the right to participate in an OFSAA basketball championship. The term “compete” does not exclusively refer to league play; it is defined as anytime two teams play against each other on a basketball court.”
Proposed Individual Student Eligibility Motion
Page D-2, Section: 5 (b) –Individual Student Eligibility
- WHEREAS OFSAA promotes equal opportunities and fair interschool competition;
- AND WHEREAS in some cases, students are participating on both a traditional high school team and a prep team;
- AND WHEREAS students participating on prep teams have an opportunity for additional competition and may give their high school team a competitive advantage;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT section (ix) now read as follows:
No competitor is eligible for an OFSAA basketball championship whose name has appeared on a game sheet or who has played in a game for a team in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA) or the National Preparatory Association (NPA), after September 30th of the current school year.
Muted response from OFSAA
Efforts to clarify the new rules and its intentions came up mute. Doug Gellatly, Executive Director of OFSAA, who according to the website is responsible for transfers and eligibility, respectfully declined to comment, replying via e-mail and citing “the topic you are referring to is early in our process and has not even been discussed by our members.”
Another source familiar with the process also declined to comment on the issue prior to the upcoming vote, but mentioned that “quite often motions make an order paper but then do not go forward for a vote.”
“We are meeting internally as an Association (both members and Executive) to elicit as much feedback as possible before making a decision on our vote.”
Regardless of its intentions, early feedback hasn’t been exactly positive, with many voicing their opinions including concerns over inclusivity and potential discrimination issues.
Concerns over equity, inclusivity and racial bias
One of those voices is Gus Gymnopoulos, head coach at Hodan Nalayeh Secondary School formerly known as Vaughan Secondary School. One of the good guys in the industry, Gymnopoulos has seen it all, both as a former player and as a head coach. In 2011 and 2012 he guided Vaughan to back-to-back OFSAA AAAA gold medals and has coached NBA standouts Andrew Wiggins and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
“I think that all transfer rules should be thrown out completely. And if you are a student at a school you should be able to play. That’s it, that’s the standard.” Gus Gymnopoulos, Head Coach, Vaughan Prep
“The reason why I think of that, is because of reasons of equity and inclusivity. Just making sure that kids have the opportunity to play sports in high school and we put away adult politics and let kids play.”
Father Henry Carr/St. Micheal’s College win OFSAA; No criticism
This is not the first time that a team/school has won an OFSAA gold medal, despite participating in their respective school league while also sharpening their toolkit in another prep league.
In fact, two teams have won the provincial banner while playing both traditional high school and prep basketball in either, the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA) or National Preparatory Association (NPA).
The Father Henry Carr Crusaders from the Toronto Catholic District School Board played in the inaugural 2015-16 OSBA season and captured the 2016 OFSAA championship in Windsor.
St. Michael’s College, a well-funded private school in one of Toronto’s wealthiest and most affluent neighborhoods, who also happens to play in the same independent conference as Crestwood Prep, won the provincial OFSAA basketball tournament in 2017 while being a member of the NPA league.
Another inside source called the new proposed regulations “targeted rules, referencing double standards with potential racial bias and motives.”
“When St. Mike’s won OFSAA while playing in the NPA nobody cried foul, the moment a predominately black team wins it, it’s now time to change the rules?”
The rapid growth of basketball across the country, in combination with the mass exodus of talent leaving to America has created exponential demand for more competition and exposure.
In 2015 Ontario Basketball, the provincial arm of Canada Basketball in partnership with Pretty River Sports & Entertainment became the first province to create an elite-level prep league, specifically to address this particular on-going problem.
The OSBA has done an incredible job of providing elite competition while enhancing coaching opportunities for coaches and various others involved with the game.
New OFSAA rules to affect multiple sports?
“I just wish that a lot of these rules that they are putting in place didn’t just target basketball. Are we even looking at the other sports? Are we looking at the rep volleyball player, are we looking at the hockey player that plays both, high level hockey and then also plays for their school team and has an unfair competitive advantage? Or are we looking at just basketball?” asked Gymnopoulos.
Although unclear at the moment, but based on the language contained in the obtained 2021 order paper, it looks like OFSAA may be looking at introducing the same type of rules for multiple sports, including hockey.
“No competitor is eligible for the OFSAA Hockey Championship whose name has appeared on a game sheet for any teams of the PWHPA or the NWHL within the current school year.”
The hockey motion aims to curb girls eligibility if they have participated in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).
“These policies, really come down to statistics and participation, so they want to have a high participation in sports because that’s how it kinda goes with OFSAA in terms of their funding, so most of their policies is to keep their participation rates very high.” continued Gymnopoulos.
But according to many, these actions could trigger more top schools to consider the prep model and look at alternative options that not only provide better competition and exposure, but more importantly, a better bang for diminishing athletic department bucks.
After all, the true cost of winning your region and sending a team to OFSAA can be a costly experience in the range of $8,000 – $10,000 dollars per team, depending on the location of the three-day tournament.
Transportation and accommodation costs aside, qualified schools also need to consider banquet costs, food expenses and much more.
All that adds up to a pretty hefty bill, for just three guaranteed games against potentially weaker teams whose “Education through sport” model differs significantly from the “Where elite meet” vision of the OSBA league.
Nova Scotia Student Athletic Federation sticking to their rules
Furthermore, OFSAA’s actions could also trigger a Canada wide effect as other not-for-profit, publicly-funded provincial organizations look to uphold and/or implement their own new bylaws to protect their leagues and future interests.
A snippet from a recently published CBC feature on Halifax Prep, a member of the NPA, highlighted Nova Scotia’s Student Athletic Federation (NSSAF) commitment to their clear and distinct rules between high school and prep basketball.
“It’s just (that) we are a different track, and it’s not (against) Halifax Prep, it is sport. It is the rugby teams can’t play, club rugby teams can’t play our rugby teams. Hockey teams, club hockey teams can’t play our school hockey teams. It’s not a basketball issue, it’s a school sport, and a club sport system.”
“The rule has been in place for a long time and to be honest with you, none of our member schools have asked us to change it. It hasn’t been asked for a review because we have our self-contained sports system.” continued the NSSAF spokesperson.
Unfortunately, after years of anticipation the inevitable has arrived, much like what we are witnessing across the border, the battle between traditional high school and the prep system is just getting started.