The clock ran out Friday on the Florida Legislature’s bid to assert more state control over the FHSAA and effectively dismantle the 93-year-old organization’s ability to govern high school athletics.
But there’s nothing to suggest the fight won’t enter a third round next year. Unless the overwhelming majority of the true stakeholders in high school sports — superintendents, principals, athletic directors, coaches and parents of student-athletes — tell their state representatives they’re hurting, not helping.
It’s a minority percentage of that last group, parents, that’s the driving force behind legislation that would protect the individual athlete’s eligibility above all else, including that athlete’s best interests as a student.
That’s because the proposed bill would invite frequent transfers, forcing administrators and teachers to continually readjust academic plans for athletes jumping from campus to campus under the guise of “educational reasons” by taking away the FHSAA’s ability to police such moves. The organization would effectively be little more than a glorified event planner, running the state playoff series for its member schools, but having no oversight over how their state championship teams were assembled.
It’s natural for parents to be concerned for their children’s best interests above all else. It’s also foolish to expect everyone to do the same.
“Every decision I make doesn’t make 2,000 people happy every day,” Fort Myers High School principal Dave LaRosa said.
The FHSAA has an even more impossible task: regulating high school athletics in 67 counties that have 688 member high schools which in 2011-12 fielded 259,885 teams made up of 781,677 student-athletes.
“Any time you have to administer and uphold the rules, you’re always the bad guy in somebody’s eyes,” LaRosa said.
Look, nobody’s happy when they get a speeding ticket. But that doesn’t mean governments should remove law enforcement’s ability to write one as long as a driver signs a pledge promising not to exceed the speed limit.
That’s what this bill would have done with athletic recruiting, put member schools and their student-athletes on the honor system. There’s a reason why sports have referees. Just as it’s unrealistic to expect teams to call their own fouls, it’s impractical to assume nearly 700 high school athletic departments will operate above reproach without a central organization that has the power to administer punishment to rule breakers.
Parents have the right to enroll their children in any public school they want, provided they follow the school district’s guidelines. There are no such rights, however, when it comes to participation in athletics or any other extracurricular activity. Schools are publicly funded to educate their students, not to help them earn athletic scholarships or play on a state championship team.
This week, North Carolina’s High School Athletic Association passed a rule that removes a transfer student’s athletic eligibility for 365 days if the move took place without a legitimate address change. While the word “legitimate” can (and most assuredly will) be challenged, it’s refreshing to see a state athletic association with the power to at least try to ensure the student comes before the athlete.
Florida’s politicians should take note. They should also receive one loud and clear message from those opposed to the dismantling of the FHSAA: get out of the game.