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Copyright 2018 Spokane Spokesman-Review

Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)


The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has been around for a long time. My regular contact with the state's governing body for high school sports and activities has changed over the years. The last time I regularly interacted with them was when the late Cliff Gillies was executive director, and he stepped down in 1993.

The WIAA has a difficult job to do, and I have a healthy respect for the men and women who do it. When most people think of iconic green jackets they immediately think of The Masters. I think of the WIAA executive board.

A former Spokesman-Review colleague, Nathan Joyce, wrote an interesting piece recently in the Seattle Times that takes an in-depth look at the WIAA and how it works. If you want to understand why the state does what it does, it's well worth a read.

In it, he spells out a number of things that aren't readily apparent to the casual observer and, in effect, is the source of the areas where, in my opinion, the needs of the many can crush the needs of the few.

There are 410 high schools in the state and, together, they are the governing body that empowers and informs the WIAA. When you remember the adage that says a moose is the end result of a committee setting out to design a cow, that alone explains a great deal.

The Times story points out that the WIAA, in and of itself, has no investigative authority.

When Nathan Hale suddenly showed up with seven basketball transfers and a team that had gone 3-18 the previous year suddenly went 29-0, winning not only the Class 3A boys basketball championship but a consensus national title as well, the WIAA had no ability to take a look at the inevitable charges of recruiting that dogged that team.

The vast majority of state oversight organizations do not have an investigative unit, and the WIAA is no exception. You can ask the WIAA to investigate perceived rule-breaking, of course. But there is no mechanism for it to actually follow through.

That doesn't mean the WIAA hasn't conducted investigations. It looked into the Bellevue High football program and found serious violations of its rules. It looked into the Chief Sealth girls basketball program a dozen years ago and found that coaches did, in fact, recruit players.

Those investigations, however, came only after the Seattle Times had published in-depth investigations of its own and found clear evidence of wrongdoing.

A newspaper shouldn't be the threshold for launching an investigation, and the WIAA understands that as well as anyone.

It's just that fixing the problems associated with having a representative governing body preclude it from taking quick action on anything. That's understandable. It's just not satisfying.

But perhaps change at the WIAA is on its way.

Mike Colbrese, the executive director since 1993, is retiring following the 2018-19 school year. Colbrese is not a problem, but change at the top typically brings with it a change in the way an organization things about institutional challenges.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane has offered two bills in the state legislature designed to put the WIAA under the oversight authority of the Legislature, in one bill, and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in the other.

Neither bill made it to the floor.

The WIAA's Governance Committee is looking at a number of areas where the WIAA could, and should, change its structure to face specific challenges.

It's looking at bringing all nine of its districts under WIAA control so that there can be a level of consistency to the postseason. It's also looking at doing away with district tournaments as a way of qualifying for state tournaments. In their place, it would use sectional tournaments.

And it's looking at creating what it calls a "judicial branch," a section made up of people outside the WIAA structure that would provide both oversight and conduct investigations.

The committee is now in its second year of studying these and other needs for the WIAA going forward. It is set to deliver a report to the WIAA executive board June 18.

My personal criticisms of the WIAA stem from areas that appear to be under study, and I find that to be a good thing.

I'm hopeful — at least to the extent that I am more than willing to look at the proposals the WIAA brings forward through its governance committee.

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April 12, 2018


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