FHSAA Spared From Senate Proposed Legislation Of Organizational Overhaul

By Tamas Mondovics

A pair of bills in the Florida House and Senate that targeted the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) and its 800 member schools aiming to overhaul and eventually replace it with something else, have come to their end, after the Florida Legislature adjourned its 2013 session without passing legislation.

Pleased with the turn of events, FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing wasted no time to issue a statement expressing his feelings on the outcome when he said, “It is gratifying that Florida’s 260,000 high school student-athletes will be spared some of the negative consequences of this legislation. We understand that many of the legislators who supported the proposal were doing what they thought was best for high school athletics, but it would have opened the door for a few adults and athletes to build powerhouses while those who respected the rules of fair play were left behind.

“The FHSAA will continue safeguarding the integrity of our state’s high school athletics, as it has done for 93 years. The session-long discussion about the FHSAA has raised some genuine concerns, and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with students, parents, coaches, administrators and legislators to ensure that all high school athletes are able to continue competing on a level playing field. Florida’s high school athletes deserve the opportunity to play under a statewide uniform set of fair rules, and the FHSAA is proud to remain the keeper of that sacred tradition for our state.”

The Senate Education Committee voted 5-2 last month in favor of the measure (SB 1164) which was amended to match the House version (HB 1279) of the legislation, improving the chances of the bill’s passage.

The amended bill placed new restrictions on investigations, altering the makeup of the FHSAA board of directors by including charter school, home school and nonpublic school members, and ultimately abolishes the organization by the summer of 2017.

Bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, reportedly said that the FHSAA has absolute power and that it has gone too far in investigating student eligibility, hence, the reorganization is necessary.

Stargel reportedly referred to a case in point—and the reason for her involvement—of the FHSAA’s sanctioning of Armwood High School’s football team, which following allegations that parents of five players falsified residency information to get their children into the school stripped the program of its 2011 Class 6A state championship and its runner-up title from 2010. The FHSAA also fined the school $12,743.

In reply, Dearing said that the bills going through Florida’s House and Senate could undermine the FHSAA’s ability to enforce transfers made by students for strictly athletic purposes and that it would create a “free agency” system among its member schools.

“Athletic-specific transfers are currently prohibited,” Dearing said adding that a change would be a problem as it would stifle fair play, invite frequent transfers, force administrators and teachers to readjust academic plans for students who jump campus to campus.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) joined the FHSAA last month and also announced its strong opposition to the proposed legislation, which they said would drastically damage the integrity of high school sports in Florida and potentially across the nation.

“The FHSAA is a private, not-for-profit association that for 93 years has stood for fairness, sportsmanship and playing by the rules in Florida,” the NFHS said in a press release.

Some also cautioned lawmakers’ involvement, which they said sets a dangerous precedent as they delve into the daily operations of a nonprofit organization, leading to the criticism of other such entities.

For more information about the FHSAA, please visit www.fhsaa.org.

For information of the CB/HB 1279, please visit, http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2013/1279.