Florida Senate moves ahead with "choice in sports" proposal
A sweeping proposal to bring "school choice" to Florida high school athletics and other extracurricular activities passed its first Senate committee Thursday, despite concerns that it could encourage rampant recruiting of student-athletes.
Senate Bill 684 -- approved unanimously by the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee -- builds on lawmakers' efforts in recent years to grant more flexibility for student-athletes so they can participate in programs immediately when they transfer schools.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland -- who's spearheading the legislation with Niceville Republican Sen. Don Gaetz -- said student-athletes should have the same right as any other student who participates in extracurricular activities to transfer to whatever school of their choice and be immediately eligible to participate in school activities.
The current limitation requires transfer students to wait until the next sports season before participating in sports. It stems from a rule by the Florida High School Athletic Association, the state-designated governing body for high school athletics.
Although the FHSAA supports Stargel and Gaetz's legislation, some athletics officials in Florida disagree with lawmakers about allowing immediate eligibility, especially without geographic limitations. They worry the proposal will legitimize abuses that are already occurring, such as students shopping for top programs or being recruited.
To "dispel" those fears, the legislation includes harsh penalties for coaches and school officials who recruit student-athletes. It calls for a $5,000 fine for the first offense, the fine and a one-year's suspension from coaching for the second offense, and the fine and the loss of their teaching license for the third offense.
"To provide more of a choice in athletics, we wanted to make sure that recruiting carried a very heavy penalty," Gaetz said.