conference call regarding the Florida High School Athletic Association's responses to new legislation that could alter how the association handles cases involving ineligible athletes, I emailed questions to Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha.
Rep. Metz got back to me last night, and here are his answers:
What is your impetus behind the bills, which call for shorter investigations and put the burden of proof on the FHSAA to prove clear evidence of wrongdoing?
Rep. Metz: I became aware of the issues surrounding the FHSAA's heavy-handed policies during the debate on legislation last year. I respect Sen. (Kelli) Stargel, a former House colleague, and I am working with her on another education bill affecting public schools. When I heard that problems impacting student athletes still persists because the FHSAA has not embraced the changes we made last year, I decided to sponsor this legislation. The bill provides needed reforms intended to produce a more properly balanced system of checks and balances to govern investigations and ruling, as well as driving organizational culture change. The current FHSAA is too quick to assume that actions by student-athletes are in futherance of cross-school recruiting. However, students can in fact leave their current schools for perfectly legitimate reasons, including fleeing from abusive coaches, parental divorce or residential change, or because they are seeking a better academic opportunity, i.e., exercising school choice. The mere fact that they are also athletes should not subject them to onerous investigations as presumed cheaters, and the bill's presumption of eligibility provision will help reverse this trend. More importantly, student-athletes deserve true due process and should not be subjected to long, grueling investigations initiated with little or no supporting evidence. High school students have a limited window of eligibility and cannot get time back lost to an overzealous investigation. The intent of this legislation is not to allow students and families to consider athletics when picking a school. The intent of this legislation is to establish due process when it comes to FHSAA proceedings and investigations, which the FHSAA clearly lacks.
What is your response to the FHSAA's claim that this bill will undermine the integrity of prep sports and turn student-athletes into free agents who can simply jump from one school to another?
Rep Metz: The scenario described by the FHSAA is a highly unlikely one which House Bill 1279 does not allow. Both common sense and systemic checks and balances would prevent this type of extreme scenario from happening. To begin with, in order to be eligible to play any sport, the student must be registered at each school before the particular seasons starts for that sport. In the hypothetical, a student would have to have started football at one school and then successfully execute two full and complete moves just at the right time during the school year in order to register at the destination school and maintain eligibility. Further, in order to transfer schools without a full and complete move, the student would have to obtain the school board's approval each and every time. Any school board applying common sense to those facts would realize that the same student is attempting to conduct multiple transfers in one academic year and they would likely deny the transfer requests and prevent this from happening.