Battle Lines Drawn Over Future Of Florida High School Athletics Association

Jan 15, 2016

High School Lacrosse teams, Florida's "Barron Collier Cougars" vs Virgina's "Flint Hill Huskies"
Credit Walter / flickr.com

The Florida High School Athletics Association could lose some of its power when it comes to high school sports. After years of attempts, the Florida legislature is poised to make big changes.

For decades the Florida High School Athletics Association has been the group in Florida regulating high school sports. But Republican Representative Ross Spano says it time to “tweak” the system. By tweak, he means capping what the FHSAA charges and allowing schools to join other sporting groups.

“Tweaks are necessary to ensure effective operations. Doesn’t matter if you’re the FHSAA or a business or the government. Over time things tend to take on a life of their own with a large organization so sometimes it’s necessary.” 

Proponents say the move will help schools of similar sizes compete instead of the current system that has all schools under one umbrella. The Florida legislature has tried for years to change the FHSAA structure, but few of those plans have succeeded.

Critics of the association have claimed it’s too strict when it comes to student eligibility and too aggressive in fining schools. Others say the organization claims to be a non-profit, yet has millions of dollars in the bank. Spano’s bill would cap FHSAA dues and fines. During a previous hearing on the bill, FHSAA Leader Roger Dearing defended his organization:

“I'ma give you a broad brush. Those fees and dues we collect in every area amounts to $2.6 million a year. We spend $5.2 million a year. We don’t collect more than what it costs us to do it. The difference comes in our sponsorships.”

The House is poised to quickly move on the bill. Rep. Spano says he doesn’t have a problem with the association, but he does think the measure would help student athletes.

“All I know is what I see today, and this is a little something we can do to help some students in Florida. I think we should do it. It appears the efforts in opposition to this bill—and believe me there is a very strong effort in opposition to this bill—you didn’t see it today. I believe those efforts are focused on the Senate side.”

To that end, powerful lobbyist Ron Book has been recruited to help the FHSAA out.  Democratic State Senator Bill Montford has previously served on the FHSAA’s board of directors. He notes there are several related high school sport bills before lawmakers.

“A lot of people my age look back on their own experience and they see high school athletics as almost a period of innocence," he said. "The little yellow bus traveling down a country road with a little dust behind it, compared today to someone driving off in a BMW and sliding in sideways. Times have changed.”

The FHSAA is backing a similar bill in the Senate that would create penalties for coaches who try to recruit students. It would also let students go to any school in the state as long as there is room. That measure is backed by Sen. Don Gaetz and Kelli Stargel.

Montford notes kids are more focused on a single sport, and he adds for many athletes high school sports is the audition for college—or a shot at the pro-level.