High school athletics officials will be watching closely Thursday as the full House takes up a bill that could have a major impact on prep sports in the state.
The House is expected to debate Senate Bill 633 by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge. The bill would require organizations like the Louisiana High School Athletic Association to use third-party arbitrators to resolve eligibility issues concerning players or else schools receiving public funds cannot participate.
The LHSAA and the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools are against the bill. Officials with both worry arbitration costs would break their banks, meaning they could not comply with the law.
Officials with both the LHSAA and the MAIS said if they can’t comply with the law, schools will have no alternative organizations to join so their students can play sports.
Neither Claitor nor LHSAA President Todd Guice have any predictions on the House vote. The Senate passed its version in April by just four votes.
At the heart of the bill is the eligibility of Episcopal High School of Baton Rouge athlete Clement Mubungirwa. He turns 19 in July, making him ineligible under LHSAA rules to play his senior year.
Supporters of Mubungirwa say he should be granted eligibility because of the compelling circumstances surrounding his life. He and his family fled their native Congo and lived in a Ugandan refugee camp before coming to America.
The LHSAA Executive Committee denied his appeal by an 11-8 vote. The LHSAA has not reversed its decision.
“I would hope the legislature respects the rules of the LHSAA, which were passed by all member principals,” Guice said. “We’ve never allowed a 19-year-old to play.”
Should the House pass the bill, it would return to the Senate for concurrence because of amendments made to the bill in committee.
The bill passed the Senate the first time with mostly support for senators in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. Guice said he’s hopefully enough senators will switch their votes if the House passes the bill.
The Mubungirwa bill is the latest issue in the ongoing power struggle between the LHSAA and the legislature concerning high school sports. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in February 2013 that the LHSAA is a private organization, which means the state cannot legislate its rules.
That hasn’t stopped some legislators from trying. A bill last year threatened to prevent schools receiving public funds from joining the LHSAA if the organization didn’t reverse its controversial decision to split select and non-select schools into separate brackets during football playoffs. That bill was eventually pulled by its author.