The Florida High School Athletic Association adopted a handful of bylaw changes Tuesday, foremost among them a move that highlights the organization’s continued steps toward allowing increased school mobility and easing eligibility requirements for student-athletes.
This notable change concerns athletes who follow a coach with whom they have a pre-existing relationship through a nonschool activity, such as a club sport or youth sport, to a high school. Under the new bylaw, high school athletes will be ineligible to participate in that varsity sport for a year, but can participate on the JV level in that sport. They will also be eligible to immediately play any other sport at that school, including at the varsity level.
The previous policy banned an athlete who followed a coach to a high school from all sports for a period of one year.
The new bylaw also allows students who are entering ninth grade to attend any high school outside of their regular zone, even if they’re following a youth coach, without any interruption in their eligibility.
Tuesday’s changes were approved by the FHSAA’s representative assembly, which includes athletic directors, school administrators and school board members. The new bylaws will go into effect on July 1.
“I don’t support that new rule at all,” said Fort Myers High School principal David LaRosa, a member of the FHSAA’s board of directors. “That rule was put in for a reason and now we’re going backwards. They’re taking this stance based on some political pressure and what they’re looking for is for the local districts to tighten things up themselves.
“In Lee County, it’s going to be up to us to police things ourselves.”
Last May, a pair of bills introduced by Florida legislators whose districts included highly publicized FHSAA recruiting investigations sought to strip the organization of its authority to regulate transfers and severely cut its funding. Both bills died after the Senate failed to vote on either proposal.
According to the FHSAA, nearly half of its sectional appeals over the past two years, 46 percent, involved incoming ninth-graders. With the organization essentially removing the penalties for an incoming high school athlete attending a school because of a youth coach, paired with the organization’s relaxed attitude toward transfers in districts that employ school choice enrollment systems, there’s little to stand in the way of open athletic recruiting unless school districts implement their own restrictive policies.
“The school districts are going to be the last line of defense,” Fort Myers football coach Sam Sirianni Jr. said. “I think we’re in a culture now where stability and consistency is being uprooted for the wrong reasons.
“For kids going into ninth grade, I think (recruiting is) going to be impossible to stop. If the FHSAA is going to make that extreme of a decision, we have to put some teeth into once you’re in a high school, you can’t bounce around every six months without some penalty.”
LaRosa said he hopes the Lee County school district, which does not have an athletic transfer policy in place, does just that.
“We’re going to have to fight the battle that what we have in place is strong and concrete,” he said. “We better or else we’re going to have problems.”
The FHSAA also broadened its drug policy by not only outlawing performance-enhancing drugs, but specifying a ban on human growth hormone, steroids and schedule-3 narcotics, which include pain pills.
“Our goal is to give young student-athletes the greatest opportunity to compete in a safe, fair environment,” FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing said. “These new bylaws will help us make sure enforcement actions are focused on those who would undermine safety and fair play, while letting the overwhelming majority of student-athletes continue to enjoy the many benefits of participating in high school athletics.”
However, the FHSAA’s expanded policy doesn’t include a testing program and hasn’t yet specified an education initiative about the dangers of such drugs.
“Again, I think they’re going to look at the local school systems to put things in place to deter that type of stuff,” LaRosa said. “You know, I think it would be hard to pin this on somebody if you don’t catch them with the actual drug, especially if you’re not testing.”