Welcome to the wild, wild West. Fasten your holsters, Floridians.
On April 27, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a highly controversial bill that restricts Florida High School Athletic Association’s power and control. Most notably their involvement in sidelining high school athletes who transfer schools within the same school year.
House Bill 1403 was brought to life by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who witnessed FHSAA deny three local Lakeland football players eligibility because of transferring issues and made the Lakeland High football team forfeit the entire 2010 season due to players falsifying addresses.
The bill will become effective for the 2012-2013 school year on July 1. “I understand the need to have rules on recruiting, but I found the FHSAA’s definition of recruiting to be much broader than I believe it should be,” Stargel told the Orlando Sentinel.
A prior FHSAA ruling on a player’s ineligibility stated if a student transferred schools after the first 20 days, the student-athlete would have to sit out from any sports the remainder of the year. The rule is the same for collegiate athletes.
Under the new amendments, student athletes who have been cleared by the School Board and who have been found innocent from any recruiting violations will be allowed to play the same year they transferred without interruption.
“The law is set in place so that moral people will abide by it. Just like any other law the reason laws are broken is because you have a bunch of immoral people,” varsity girls basketball head coach Chad Reed said.
The bulk of retribution for schools found guilty of breaking rules will lay with the coaches and authoritative figures, instead of the players in question. The excerpt below was taken directly from the bill:
The FHSAA bylaws may not limit the competition of student athletes prospectively for rule violations of their school or its coaches or their adult representatives. The FHSAA bylaws may not unfairly punish student athletes for eligibility or recruiting violations perpetrated by a teammate, coach, or administrator.
“Bottom line if their moral judgement is not in the equation then the spirit of the law isn’t there because parents will just take advantage of it anyways and so will some coaches,” Reed said.
According to Roger Dearing, executive director of FHSAA, only 74 athletes out of 263,000 participating at member schools were declared ineligible to play during the 2010- 2011 season.
“I think that it’s hypocritical because whenever you register for a high school you sign a contract that you’re not going to be recruited for sports, senior tennis player Diana Valencia said. “This rule isn’t recruiting, but you can do whatever you want. You can play for your high school and switch in the middle.”
Another change stemming from the bill is in regards to FHSAA membership. Until the new legislation, current state statutes called for all public schools to be paying due members to FHSAA. With House Bill 1403, any public, private, charter and virtual school or home school corporation have their own discretion to opt for membership.
Technically with the amendment, FHSAA may not deny competition between member and non-member schools.
Before 2009, if a player transferred after the school year and both principals signed a waiver the student-athlete could participate.
However, FHSAA ignitiated a policy in 2009-2010 that would make the transfer sit out for a year.
Although this bill brings forth many changes at the state level, many feel a consequence of the bill will be a change in the integrity amongst high school athletes.
“I don’t understand what happened to school pride and wanting to play for your school and having your school’s name up there in the state championships and wanting that tradition to continue. It just all seems to go away and it’s all a ‘meme- me’ attitude and you know I don’t like that,” Blue Crew sponsor Cindy Rogers said.
Even athletes are starting to realize how this new bill could impact teammates transfering to a new school before the season begins.
“I think it’s unfair because it’s taking away from our team because they are transferring to new school and they are helping out other teams when they could be helping us win championships,” lacrosee player Julian Baron-Clarke said.
In a prepared statement in response to the approval of House Bill 1403 Dearing said, “Governor Scott made a thoughtful decision in signing House Bill 1403, and the Florida High School Athletic Association will do all we can to help implement this new law for the benefit of student-athletes across our state.”
He pointed that since this bills introduction, the FHSAA has learned the “reality and the perception of what we do and how we do it.”
“We will always be vigilant in our continuing efforts to provide the best possible high school athletic experience for boys and girls throughout our state,” Dearing said,
“because we are not just training better athletes, we are developing better citizens.”