With the help of two former NFL players turned high school football coaches, the Florida High School Athletic Association spoke out Tuesday against pending state legislation that would limit its ability to rule on high school athletes’ eligibility.
FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing, along with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mike Alstott and Reidel Anthony were part of a conference call with state media to address its concerns regarding Senate Bill 1164 and recently proposed House Bill 1279 — both of which would allow students to change high schools in order to play for a different team as long as they meet the academic and athletic requirements of that school.
House Bill 1279, sponsored by Lake County state representative Larry Metz, passed unanimously recently through a legislative subcommittee, and follows up the earlier Senate Bill 1164 proposal, sponsored by Lakeland senator Kelli Stargel. The recent House Bill would call for severe cuts to FHSAA revenue, cut Dearing’s salary, and calls for his termination as FHSAA director on June 30 with a replacement of all 16 of the association’s board members Sept. 30.
Illegal recruiting has long been an issue in high school sports.
The new legislature has raised concerns that it would allow for rampant and blatant acts of recruiting by high school coaches while limiting the FHSAA’s ability to maintain a level playing field for the nearly 260,000 student-athletes in 32 sports it currently governs.
Under the new legislature, before the FHSAA can suspend a student or coach for violating rules, including those prohibiting recruiting and regulating high school athletic transfers, the association must obtain a final order from the state Division of Administrative Hearings. Dearing said that process could take months or even years to complete while allowing individuals in question to continue to participate in high school events.
“The FHSAA continues to stand for fair competition,” Dearing said. “The changes these bills propose would undermine sportsmanship and shatter community spirit by allowing some high schools to become recruiting-frenzied sports giants while others are left to fall by the wayside. Our kids deserve to grow up playing sports in an environment that promotes fairness, teamwork and playing by the rules.”
Tallahassee-based initiative “The Access for Student Athletes Coalition” issued a statement Tuesday supporting the legislature arguing for student rights and due process and calling for the FHSAA to end its opposition of both bills.
“Current law and this new legislation would not allow for illegal recruiting, nor for wholesale free agency, as the FHSAA claims,” Stargel said in the statement. “This proposal would not prevent the FHSAA from fulfilling their primary role; however, it would help combat their predisposition to consider students as guilty until proven innocent, and would establish true due process and rights for student athletes, which the current system of conducting investigations clearly lacks.”
Alstott, a former All-Pro fullback for the Bucs, is the head football coach at Northside Christian in St. Petersburg. Anthony, a former standout receiver at the University of Florida, is the offensive coordinator at Belle Glade Glades Central.
Both voiced their concerns, with Alstott comparing the new rules the legislature would create the equivalent to a “high school free agency.”