TAMPA - The Florida High School Athletic Association could be putting its energy and resources in the state boys basketball tournament, which is being contested this week in Lakeland.
Instead, executive director Roger Dearing spent the week in Tallahassee defending FHSAA policies and by-laws threatened by current legislation.
House Bill 1403, sponsored by Rep. Kelli Stargel (D-Lakeland), was approved in the House on Friday by a 74-38 vote and sent to the Senate for either approval or to be folded into Senate Bill 1704.
HB 1403 requires the FHSAA to adopt by-laws to:
- Allow a student who obtains an approved transfer to participate in athletics;
- Authorize certain penalties for recruiting violations;
- Regulate investigators and sanction coaches who commit major violations;
- Make determinations of student eligibility;
- Require an expedited appeals process;
- Provide requirements for de novo decisions on appeal.
Additionally, the bill was amended to say membership in the FHSAA is not mandatory for any school and the FHSAA may not deny or discourage interscholastic competition between its member schools and non-FHSAA member Florida schools, including members of another athletic governing organization. The FHASS also could not take any discriminatory action against any of its member schools that participate in interscholastic competition with non-FHSAA member Florida schools.
It also would allow school boards to approve transfers among public schools.
"What's included in Stargel's bill is the issue on open transfers, open eligibility, which is going to be a huge blow to regulating recruiting and fair play for student-athletes in high school in Florida," Dearing said in a statement Friday. "We're very disappointed with the vote. We feel it was more of an emotional issue for some of the members of the House than it was an issue of what's best for the kids in the state of Florida.
"This will turn eligibility and fair play and teaching kids the right way to win upside-down. We're hoping that the Senate and Governor will look into the issues that are included in these bills, and common sense and what all of the practitioners in public and private schools who coach these kids, who help raise these kids, who help serve as examples for these kids about sportsmanship and integrity ... the state (association members) is unified against both of these bills and we hope that the Senate and the Governor heed the wisdom of all those people that work with our young student-athletes day in and day out."
SB 1704, sponsored by Sen. Stephen R. Wise (R), District 5. would have forced private school members of the FHSAA to join the fledgling Sunshine Independent Athletic Association, which has 30 members according to its web site. Some of those schools have been banned from FHSAA membership for major recruiting violations.
The wording of the bill has been changed to give public and private schools the option of joining either association but was amended to allow any private high school in Florida, including a virtual school, a home-education cooperative or a charter school, to become a member of the FHSAA or the SIAA and participate in the activities of that organization. However, a public high school, other than a charter school, may not join the SIAA.
The two bills are considered companion bills and the Senate is expected to address the issue Monday, the beginning of the final week of the legislative session.