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Eligibility rules bill clears over opposition from the FHSAA

A proposed rewrite of Florida’s high school athletics rules has come under fire from a coalition of groups that say the move is retaliation by a small group of sore losers. Lynn Hatter reports critics of the legislation say it will make it easier to illegally recruit athletes.

Critics say the bill under consideration in the House would make it easier for ineligible students to participate in high school sports.  The group calls itself Florida Parents for Fair Play. And it includes the Florida High School Athletic Association and the national Amateur Athletic Association or AAU. In a conference call with reporters Monday, they blasted the bill.

 “The students and their parents should be able to choose which schools they want to go to for scholastic reasons. But participation in interscholastic activities is not a constitutionally protected property right.”

Roger Deering heads the state high school athletic association. And he says House HB 1403 by Republican Representative Kelli Stargel of Lakeland would allow students who transfer in the middle of the school year to become automatically eligible to play. Right now, those students have to go through a certification process to prove they have not been recruited and that they actually live where they say they do. Deering says the bill is retaliation for the association declaring three Lakeland football transfer students ineligible to play after their parents falsified documents to claim they had moved.

“Obviously this is an issue coming from Polk County in the House and I think it’s an issue particularly this House members issue.”

The parent of one of those ineligible students is also a personal friend of the bill’s sponsor. During a committee hearing on the proposal, Stargel said she’s changed the bill after hearing from the FHSAA.

 “We’ve made a couple other changes …we’re giving the FHSAA the ability to give  a deadline.”

 But those changes weren’t enough to passify the Association’s Dearing, who says the bill is an answer in search of a problem.

 “74 students last year were denied eligibility because improper transfer, 74 out 263,000…that’s less than 1/100,0000ths of 1-percent. And for that, we get a bill that changes the way we operate and maintain a level playing field to stop recruitment in Florida.

Democrat Martin Kair of Broward said he was on the fence.

 “Have there been students who have had to sit out a year even though they weren’t recruited but because they weren’t able to show extenuating circumstances? Have there been any students that have had to forgo scholarships because they weren’t able to play their senior year?”

And Republican Representative Marti Coley of Marianna asked what happens in a situation where a student athlete  attends a private school that has closed, and the coach at that school gets a new job, and the student then goes with the coach. Coley wanted to know how the Association handles those cases. Deering says:

 “If recruiting is not involved, the student is deemed eligible.”

Stargel’s says she understands why the rules are in place. But also says those some rules make student-athletics guilty until proven innocent.

“I have spent many hours talking to many members about this bill. And I understand Mr. Deering won’t agree, but the bylaws are very broad. They can be interpreted any way that Mr. Deering and the Association wants to interpret them. And there’s no way that as a by-law abiding person, I can follow those bylaws and not being subject of having my children ineligible to play, or my activities as a volunteer keeping my children from being eligible to play.”

The Athletics proposal cleared the House Education on a party line vote with Democrats in opposition. The Athletics Association is also opposing a proposal in the Senate that would create a separate athletics association for charter and private schools.


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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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