Lawmakers Debate Future Of High School Sports And Changes To FHSAA

Nov 16, 2015

Credit FHSAA

The Florida High School Athletics Association continues to draw scrutiny from some lawmakers. Now they’re gearing up to water down the association’s powers.

Complaints against the Florida High School Athletics Association have been long running. Angry parents, upset their child can’t play because they transferred schools. Charter schools and private schools, who say they’re often locked out of competitions. And an appeals process that is long, and cumbersome. Stewart Weiss, with the Sunshine State Athletics Conference, says high school sports has changed:

 “You look at any sport in FHSAA districts and I challenge you to find anyone, any sport that over an eight-year period, had eight different winners.  I bet you can’t find one. Because there’s not parity. And that’s because the competitive level of sports.”

Weiss is backing House Bill 31 which would de-couple public schools from the Florida High School Athletics Association and allow them to choose another group for each sport the school offers. He says that would give more parity in high school athletics, instead of having a select few schools win year-after-year.  

If you have the IMG’s [IMG Academy] of the world and go out and get the best athletics and bring them in from around the world, and they want to compete with other schools that want to do that, they should be allowed to do that. But other schools, like mine that don’t have that mindset….they should be allowed to put themselves together with other like-minded schools."

Weiss argues that would create more parity in high school sports. And some of that language has been included in a Senate effort to force changes in the Florida High School Athletics Association. Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and Republican Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, are putting forth Senate Bill 684. The bill makes students immediately eligible to play sports at the school they transferred into at the start of the year or mid-year without approval of the local school board, as long as there’s room on a team and they meet the coach’s requirements.

One argument against the Association is that it exerts too much power and regulation at a level considered amateur sporting. But Democratic Sen. Bill Montord, D-Tallahassee, head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, says at the point a student athlete gets to high school—he or she may be recruited,  and at that level, it’s no longer just a game.

“Far more students today and they’re parents, are focusing on one sport. You used to have three or four," Montford said. "Now it’s not unusual for a student, and an early age, to focus on one sport, and play it year-round.” 

Montford says there are two primary thoughts on the issue. One side says the state has created choice programs for academically gifted students, and allows them to go to different schools, so why not do the same for athletically-gifted kids. But the other side maintains high school sports should remain somewhat pure. Those two warring ideologies will go up against each other as the legislature prepares to resume its long-running conversation about how, and whether to regulate high school sports.