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Bill Would Strip Power From High School Athletic Association

A bill set to be considered by the Florida Senate this week would force fundamental changes on the Florida High School Athletic Association and could ultimately lead to the association's demise.

If passed, the legislation would dramatically affect student-athlete eligibility rules by ensuring that students who transfer during the school year would remain eligible for athletics in their new school so long as the transfer occurs before the start of practice for their particular sport. That specific provision has sparked fears among some athletic directors and FHSAA officials, who believe the system could be exploited to allow students to be recruited by schools on the basis of athletics.

"Kids should not be changing schools for athletic reasons," FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing said, according to The Palm Beach Post. "It's not the athletics that are going to carry them through life. It's the academics. This is what our member schools stand for. ... It's what all 50 state high school associations are all about."

The bill would require the FHSAA to develop bylaws that "specifically prohibit the recruiting of students for athletic purposes" by establishing specific penalties and an appeals process for recruiting violations. It would also prohibit otherwise eligible student-athletes from being "unfairly punished" for violations committed by teammates, coaches, or school administrators.

If the FHSAA sought to challenge a student-athlete's eligibility, the bill would require the association to have "credible information from an identified source or from an anonymous source with credible corroboration." The student-athlete eligibility hearing would go through the state's Division of Administrative Hearings instead of through the FHSAA, as eligibility hearings currently do.

If a judge rules against the FHSAA in an eligibility hearing, the association would be responsible for paying the associated legal costs, the bill states. Student-athletes involved in ineligibility hearings would retain their athletic eligibility until the conclusion of the hearing.

"We're trying to change the philosophical orientation of this organization (FHSAA) so that they're not always presuming guilt," said Rep. Larry Metz, the primary sponsor of the House version of the bill, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The FHSAA's designation as the "governing nonprofit organization of athletics in Florida public schools" would expire on July 1, 2017, if the legislation passes.

The state House passed the bill by an 89-26 vote on April 24, then sent it to the Senate the next day. If it doesn't reach the Senate floor by the end of the legislative session on Friday, it will die, according to the Naples Daily News. As of mid-Wednesday, the bill had not been placed on the Senate's special order calendar for May 1 or May 2.

If passed, the legislation would go into effect July 1.

Florida isn't the only state whose high school athletic association faces legislation that threatens its power. In Louisiana, the House education committee is currently considering a bill that would prohibit public schools from participating in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, TheNewsStar.com reports.

The bill's author, Rep. Bob Hensgens, explained on SportsNOLA.com that his proposed legislation was spawned by the LHSAA's decision in January to separate "select" and "nonselect" schools in football playoffs.

"What kind of message is this sending to the next and future generation of citizens and leaders of our state?," Hengsens asked. "Separate is never equal, one will always be perceived as superior thus the other inferior. Call it what you want, but this proposition is segregation."

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