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High Schools May Get Greater Autonomy From Florida Athletic Association Requirements

| January 19, 2016


High schools may soon get to choose which sports to join and which not within FHSAA rules. (© FlaglerLive)

The battle between lawmakers and the Florida High School Athletic Association started again Thursday, with House and Senate committees approving measures that the organization says would hurt it financially.

The House Education Committee unanimously approved one version (HB 31), clearing the way for that bill to move to the House floor. In what was arguably a bigger defeat for the association, the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee overwhelmingly approved the Senate counterpart (SB 1026) on a 9-1 vote.

The Senate’s bill still has two committee stops to go, and a fiercer fight over the legislation is expected to take place. The FHSAA did not address the bill before the House committee.

“It appears as if the efforts are being focused on the Senate side,” said House sponsor Ross Spano, R-Dover.

The proposals would allow schools to join the FHSAA on a per-sport basis and limit how much can be charged for some association-sponsored competitions. Currently, a school that joins the FHSAA in any sport has to be a member in every sport.

“The practical effect of (the association’s rule) is that smaller schools who just can’t field competitive teams for the larger sports end up suffering,” Spano said.

The legislation would allow those schools to “have a choice of where their kids belong,” in the words of Stuart Weiss, president of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference. Schools in Weiss’ organization play football separately from the FHSAA, but still have to be members and have to honor the larger association’s rules.

“We believe that schools should have choice and control of their sports,” Weiss said.

But Roger Dearing, executive director of the FHSAA, said the proposal could undermine the association financially. Much like college athletics, high-school sports use revenues from major programs like football and basketball to offset losses in less popular sports.

“Our concern is, it’s the revenues from those postseason games that go to pay for all the sports,” Dearing told the Senate committee. “So if they’re not going to contribute any money on the postseason games but still expect us to oversee the expenses for tennis and golf and soccer and all those, that’s where that part comes in.”

The association is going along for now with a separate Senate bill (SB 684), by Sens. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, that has a per-sport membership provision for private schools. An amendment approved by the Senate panel on Thursday removed language from Gaetz and Stargel’s bill that would have allowed that provision to apply to public schools as well.

That measure would ease some restrictions on student-athletes who transfer while strengthening penalties for recruiting, which is banned under FHSAA guidelines. It was approved unanimously by the Senate committee.

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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