Are We Punishing Success?

An Evaluation of the Indiana Tournament Success Factor and Implications for Interscholastic Policy


  • James Johnson Ball State University
  • David Pierce Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
  • Davis Matz Ball State University



competitive balance, interscholastic athletics, tournament success factor, sports policy


In 2012 the Indiana High School Athletic Association approved the Tournament Success Factor (TSF). This innovative policy was designed to improve interscholastic competitive balance by reclassifying individual teams above their enrollment based on success in their post-season tournament. To date, there have been five two-year cycles of TSF reclassifications, and some critics argue the policy unfairly penalizes the athletes on teams who must play up in classification after the successes of the predecessors. To determine if this critique was justified, as well as identify patterns and potential policy adjustments, this study investigated 93 cases of how teams performed after moving up in classification due to the TSF. Results indicated that 55.9% did not have enough post-season success at the next level in the first cycle after moving up to remain in the higher classification, and 79.5% did not by the end of two cycles. Additionally, reclassifications happen at a disproportionately high rate for private schools relative to the number of private high schools throughout the state. Historically, six and eight years prior to moving up show significant differences between teams that have some success at a higher classification and teams that demonstrated isolated success with an immediate return to a lower classification. Based on the results, it appears a reasonable policy innovation would be to increase the point value needed to trigger the move up from 6 to 7, or use a historical metric that includes TSF points over prior cycles. These changes would eliminate most of the isolated cases of success and target the most successful programs that should be competing at a higher classification, which meets the true intention and spirit of TSF.

Author Biographies

James Johnson, Ball State University

James Johnson, EdD, is a professor of sport administration in the School of Kinesiology at Ball State University. His research interests include intercollegiate and interscholastic sport leadership.

David Pierce, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

David Pierce, PhD, is a professor and director of the Sports Innovation Institute in the Department of Tourism, Event, and Sport Management at IUPUI. His research interests include sports innovation, engaged learning practices, and youth sports leadership.

Davis Matz, Ball State University

Davis Matz is a master’s student in the sport administration program in the School of Kinesiology and an athletic communications intern at Ball State University. His research interests include interscholastic competitive balance.


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