Senate advances controversial bill to revamp high school sports association


News Service of Florida

Proponents of the Florida High School Athletic Association are on their defensive heels as those trying to revamp how high school sports are managed in Florida are driving with the ball as the clock runs down.

The Senate Education Committee voted 5-2 on Monday in favor of a measure (SB 1164) that would overhaul the FHSAA and eventually replace it with something else yet to be designed. The Senate bill was amended Monday to match the House version of the legislation, improving chances for passage.

The amended bill places new restrictions on investigations, alters the makeup of the FHSAA board of directors by including charter school, home school and non-public school members and abolishes the organization in July 2017.

Backers of the change say the reorganization is needed, claiming the FHSAA has an arbitrary authority and that it has gone too far in investigating student eligibility.

Bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel addressed criticism that the bill, in reducing oversight, invites mischief.

"This bill does not allow free agency, does not allow recruiting, it doesn’t not legislate cheating," said Stargel, R-Lakeland.

FHSAA supporters, including many coaches, school district officials and private school administrators, claim the changes will create "chaos" as some schools become sports magnets. They say it will invite frequent transfers, and force administrators and teachers to continually readjust academic plans for students who jump campus to campus.

The committee support was the first step in the Senate for the bill.

The Senate proposal has one more committee stop and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said Monday he expects his Rules Committee will have time to meet again.

Meanwhile, the House is expected to discuss its proposal on Tuesday.

The House version, rushed through three committee appearances with no opposition, has backing from Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Backers of the FHSAA say the proposal will also make it more difficult for small schools to compete in state athletic tournaments as more reliance is put on each of the 67 school districts to self-regulate their athletic programs.

"When we put a team on the field we know the other team has followed the same rules and regulations," said Alachua County Superintendent Dan Boyd. "We don’t’ want that to change."

Critics also say lawmakers are setting a dangerous precedent by delving into the daily operations of a non-profit organization.

"How long is it before you decide you don’t like the way other entities are operating?" asked Ron Meyer, a lawyer for the Florida Education Association.

Stargel argued that the Legislature isn’t overstepping its authority.

"They are the monopoly," Stargel said. "We designate them as the organization that oversees our high school athletics, many of our public school funds go to the organization, so therefore I believe we have a role."

She added that the FHSAA could continue as the overseer of state high school athletics after the sunset date if it agrees to abide by the directives of the Legislature.

"I don’t want to take over high school athletics, that’s not our role, but I want them to be accountable to the will of the Legislature and the will of the people," she said.

Read more Broward High Schools stories from the Miami Herald

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