The Florida High School Athletic Association - under fire by state lawmakers - announced Thursday the support of the National Federation of State High School Associations in the FHSAA's efforts to fight proposed legislation that both organizations claim would damage the integrity of high school sports in Florida and potentially across the nation.
House Bill 1279 and Senate Bill 1164 would regulate the FHSAA's investigative powers, overhaul its structure and restrict its eligibility-governing authority. That, opponents say, would tear down barriers that prevent dishonest coaches and unscrupulous adults from recruiting impressionable young athletes.
"These bad bills need to be stopped from becoming a dangerous law," Roger Dearing, executive director of the FHSAA said in a statement. "We are pleased that the NFHS is standing with us to defend sportsmanship and fair competition for Florida high school athletes."
The FHSAA and NFHS oppose the bills because they say the measures would inject political appointees into high school sports while destabilizing core values such as honesty and integrity, which form the cornerstone of high school athletics. The legislation would tilt the level playing field by allowing students to transfer to different schools to play different sports, while emasculating the FHSAA's ability to enforce its rules against illegal actions such as recruiting. The result, the associations contend, would be a high school athletics system ruled by coaches, parents and boosters who would go to any lengths to win a state championship.
"Our members around the nation are deeply troubled by the proposals being considered by the Florida Legislature that would undermine the authority of the FHSAA and undercut the integrity of high school sports," said Bob Gardner, executive director of the NFHS. "If this legislation passes, it will establish a terrible precedent that endangers the values we promote to high school athletes nationwide."
According to The Florida Current, a nonpartisan media organization covering Florida government, supporters counter that the bills - HB 1279 cleared the House last week - "reins in a system with a monopolistic control of high school sports and is at odds with the American legal tradition. "
Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, who proposed the House measure, told the paper he wants to change the FHSAA's "orientation" to a presumption of innocence rather than have student-athletes prove to the association that they did not violate school transfer rules in order to play football, volleyball or other sports.
Specifically, HB 1279 would:â¢ Establish violations of eligibility rather than presume a student is ineligibleâ¢ Require the FHSAA to conduct a review of bylaws, policies and procedures for compliance with a presumption of eligibility mandateâ¢ Regulate how the FHSAA investigates a student's eligibility â¢ Limit FHSAA board members to one three-year term and prohibit successive termsâ¢ Sunset the FHSAA designation as the high school athletics governing body in 2017, terminating it as an organization
"Doesn't mean we are necessarily going to make a change, but it sends a signal that this monopoly is not something ad infinitum, but this is something that we review periodically," Metz told The Florida Current.
Founded in 1920 as a private, not-for-profit association, the FHSAA provides opportunities for high school students to compete under the same rules on an equal playing field in 32 different sports.