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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida high school athletics back in play for 2016 session

Pedro Portal / El Nuevo Herald



Members of the Florida House Education committee are again contemplating legislation that could relax eligibility rules for high school student-athletes and add oversight to the private, non-profit governing body that oversees almost all high school sports statewide.

Chairwoman Marlene O'Toole, R-The Villages, said Friday the committee had hoped to have a draft bill presented this week, but it's "not quite ready." It should be available by the panel's Nov. 18 meeting, she said.

The Senate also had a hearing last month about the Florida High School Athletic Association, but no specific legislation for 2016 has been proposed in that chamber yet.

Last spring, a bill that, some said, threatened the very existence of FHSAA cleared the House but died in the Senate.

Rep. Manny Diaz -- a Hialeah Republican who will again spearhead the House legislation for the 2016 session -- said Friday he's planning to pitch similar policy proposals that would (1) make it easier for students to be immediately eligible to participate in sports when they transfer schools, (2) add oversight for FHSAA financing and operations, and (3) improve the appeals process for investigations into athletes' eligibility.

But before proposing anything in writing, Diaz said he wants to continue talking with FHSAA officials about what changes they've implemented since last spring's legislative debate.

"I have had preliminary conversations with them, and it seems like they’re heading in the right direction," Diaz said, "so what I want to do is continue to work with them to see what improvements they have made through their bylaws: What changes have they made, and figure out how far apart we are from what the legislature was looking at and what they had voluntarily done."

Under FHSAA rules, if a student-athlete transfers schools within the same school year, they aren't eligible to play sports until the next sports season begins. There's three seasons during a school year: fall, winter and spring.

But Diaz said such rules are "fairly archaic," given strides to improve parents' school choice for their kids.

"It’s really a challenge to bring the association rules and eligibility and all that up to modern standards, and make sure that we’re not excluding any students," Diaz said.

Students are supposed to transfer for academic reasons, and the recruitment of athletes is verboten. Diaz said he doesn't want to change that prohibition, but some fear that relaxing eligibility requirements could open the floodgates -- especially in Florida's highly competitive districts.

Diaz acknowledged "there's always a concern" a student could say they're transferring for academic reasons, when their motives are purely driven by athletic opportunity.

"We’re not saying it’s OK to recruit; we’re not lifting any of the sanctions on recruiting," Diaz said. But he added, what's the difference between a star athlete and a math scholar?

"If they’re a great math student and compete in math, or science, and they go across the county to go to a school that has a great science or math program, nobody says anything about that," Diaz said.

"What I want to make sure is that we do have rules, that rules are followed, that the adults are held responsible, but that we don’t -– for whatever arbitrary reason –- punish the kids from being able to have the opportunity to secure their future and go to school," he said.

[Last modified: Thursday, November 5, 2015 4:04pm]


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