2013 Legislature

High school sports bill gets a Hail Mary in the Florida House

 

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

The body that oversees high school sports in Florida is preparing its fourth-quarter defense.

On Wednesday, the Florida House passed a proposal that strips power away from the Florida High School Athletic Association. It also eases the rules that prevent students from playing sports at schools they don’t attend.

The bill, HB 1279, appeared to be dead last week. But the proposal got new life Monday, when the Senate Education Committee gave a first nod to its Senate companion. The House bill is now eligible to be heard on the Senate floor.

FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing maintains the proposal would open the door to free agency for high school athletes and transform schools into “recruiting-frenzied sports giants.”

“It’s far fetched and it’s egregious,” Dearing said. “We’re going to keep rallying the troops [in opposition].”

This is the second consecutive year Florida lawmakers have tried to overhaul the FHSAA, which has been criticized for being overly punitive when schools and student athletes break the rules.

“The thought behind this bill this year was let’s try to change the board a little bit to get a different mix there, so that we might be able to change the culture of the organization,” said Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, who is sponsoring the bill.

Metz’s bill would revamp the FHSAA governing board, place 4-year term limits on its members, and require the executive director to be confirmed by the state Senate. It would also cap the executive director’s salary and expenses, and limit the association’s authority to investigate possible recruiting violations.

Metz acknowledged the bill could allow students to play sports at schools they don’t attend, but only if their home school did not offer that program.

“If a student wants to just transfer, they have to go to their school board to get that approved,” Metz said. “That’s under current law and that’s still under the law that would exist if this bill were passed.”

The bill wouldn’t create free agency, Metz said. “It’s very much preserving the initial role of the FHSAA in overseeing athletics and having eligibility standards that are in statute,” he said.

Recruiting is explicitly forbidden in Florida high-school sports.

Metz’s proposal inspired impassioned debate Wednesday.

“What we have is a playground fight that got elevated all the way to the state Legislature,” said Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa.

Danish said homeschooled students, and those attending private and charter schools, would have the ability to shop for athletics programs, and that would damage the integrity of high school athletics.

In the end, the majority of representatives agreed with Metz. “It’s about time someone reined in the power and the abuse of power by the FHSAA,” said Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City.

The House approved the bill in a 89-26 vote.

What will happen in the Senate is anybody’s guess. The fact that the bill got a last-minute committee hearing in the Senate suggests that powerful lawmakers are pushing for it.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, has been working to rally support in the upper chamber.

But Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, has vowed to fight against it.

“We already have a well-defined, well-functioning structure,” said Montford, a former superintendent who once sat on the FHSAA governing board. “There’s no need to change it.”

Miami Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

Read more Florida stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category