New IHSA contract could be costly to schools

Marty Touchette

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced that they have agreed to a new, five-year contract with Baden Sports, Inc. to be the association’s official ball supplier for most IHSA competitions.

“This could cost us thousands,” United athletic director Tony Kozelichki said. “Potentially a five-digit expense.”

The IHSA’s current ball contract with Wilson Sporting Goods is set to expire at the end of the 2008-09 school year. The IHSA received contract proposals from several industry leaders, including Rawlings, Spalding and Wilson, but went with Baden. The IHSA will be the 18th State High School Association to endorse Baden as it’s official ball.

“The board simply felt that Baden offered a ball contract and product that was unmatched by any of the other suitors. To say the least, we were impressed by the quality and cutting edge expertise Baden has achieved in its products,”  said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman in the announcement.

“We are very happy to be named the official ball of the Illinois High School Association,” said Michael Schindler, Baden’s CEO.

The agreement specifically pertains to balls used only in state-level competitions, Kozelichki said. In most cases, the IHSA does not dictate the balls used in regular season contests. However, using one type of ball for several months, then changing at playoff time would put a team at a serious competitive disadvantage.

“Good luck trying to compete against a school that has been using the same ball all season if you haven’t been,” Kozelichki said. “It is not fair to the kids to do that to them.”

Kozelichki said that the decision to change came as a shock. “I have been involved with baseball for 40 years and have never seen a Baden baseball,” Kozelichki said.

A review of the list prices of the IHSA specified balls on the Baden Website (badenballs.com) showed prices for individual balls ranging from $64.99 for a soccer ball to $79.99 for a football. Prices for a dozen softballs and baseballs also fell within that range.

Kozelichki said that he did not know if there was a lower price negotiated between the IHSA and Baden, but suggested that it was likely.

Nevertheless, the costs to school districts could be significant.

“I can’t imagine a lot of people (athletic directors) wanted to get rid of everything they have and start over with all new equipment,” Kozelichki said.

At a minimum, Kozelichki said, the relatively small United sports program would need to purchase 12 footballs, 24 boys and 24 girls basketballs, 40 volleyballs and 12-dozen baseballs and softballs.

Total cost for such a bare-bones, minimum order for United, based on list price, would be more than $7,000. Even at a discounted price, such as 25 percent off, the school would still be looking at a cost of more than $5,000.

“That is a lot of money we can’t afford,” Kozelichki said.

Besides the cost of replacing current supplies of practice and game balls, there is also a concern that Baden’s prices are significantly higher than what schools are currently paying.

For example, United has current bids out for baseballs for this year’s baseball season priced at $43 per dozen, significantly below the listed price of $69.95 from Baden.

“Even with a 10 or 20 percent discount, the price of the Baden balls is higher,” Kozelichki said.

Despite the concerns about higher prices, the IHSA said that the prices would be comparable to prices offered by other vendors.

“Baden has assured us that they will sell balls at or below the prices competitors charge on comparable balls,” Hickman said in an e-mail correspondence with the Daily Review Atlas.

Even with prices significantly lower than listed on the Baden Web site, schools are still looking at the cost of replacing scores of balls costing the schools thousands of dollars. The IHSA and Baden did make a gesture to help the schools.

“In an effort to provide a smooth transition for schools to the newly adopted ball, Baden will provide a free ball to each coach in each sport on behalf of the IHSA and Baden. In addition to aiding the transition, this effort will allow each school to stretch its budget dollars,” Schindler said.

For United, that would leave just 96 balls to purchase, not counting baseball and softballs.

The potential cost for larger schools, such as Monmouth-Roseville, could be even more drastic. For example, M-R fields freshmen teams and soccer teams that a smaller school like United doesn’t.

However, M-R athletic director Ken McCance was not as concerned about the change.

“It will cost us a little bit more. We don’t plan on replacing every ball that we have. Each coach will probably request the same number of balls that they do every year, it will just be Baden balls this year,” McCance said. “However, if we were told that we had to use only Baden balls in practice and had to replace everything that would be a chunk (of money),”

The M-R athletic director went on to explain that the school works through a co-op with 35-40 other schools to negotiate lower prices.

McCance said that with purchasing the normal compliment of balls, athletes at M-R would have plenty of the new balls to practice with.

Kozelichki was blunt in his assessment of the IHSA decision making process.

“The IHSA awarded the contract it felt was in the best interest of the IHSA,” Kozelichki said. “What it doesn’t say is what the IHSA is getting out of this.”

Kozelichki said that he has not begun to figure out where the money for the new balls for the 2009-10 will come from.

“It just not fair to the kids not to give them the equipment that they will have to use at tournament time,” Kozelichki said.