TAMPA — If Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson has his way, the “free” in high school sports free agency will soon vanish, supplanted by a hefty cost.
The price tag? A year of eligibility.
In the wake of the Armwood player-eligibility scandal that cost the Hawks their 2011 state football title, Robinson (second from left) is proposing a stringent new policy that would sideline Hillsborough County students from participating in sports for one calendar year if they transfer after their initial enrollment in high school.
The proposal includes a lengthy list of exceptions, including families who make a “full and complete” move to a new residence, or a student reassigned to a different school for non-athletic or non-disciplinary reasons.
Those who might qualify for an exception would appeal their cases before a Transferring Student-Athletes Participation Committee that would meet once a month or as necessary.
A lengthy process, including school board approval, is required before the policy could be enacted. It won’t be voted on at Tuesday afternoon’s school board meeting, Robinson said.
“I don’t know about necessarily making a firm statement,” Robinson said of the proposal Monday, “but (stressing) the idea that there’s a process and you’ve got to follow the process no matter what — that’s the statement.”
Robinson is set to discuss the policy at a school district workshop Tuesday morning, nearly a month to the day after the Florida High School Athletic Association forced Armwood to forfeit 25 games over the previous two seasons and pay more than $12,000 in fines for using five ineligible players.
A lengthy FHSAA investigation found the families of five Hawks players falsified residence information to enroll at the school. Upon receiving the report of the FHSAA probe in May, Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia called the findings "a serious matter which has revealed some very specific procedural areas that we need to closely review."
Since then, Robinson has run his idea by county athletic directors and coaches.
The feedback: “Pretty much everybody says something needs to be done to address the issue,” he said.
If implemented, Robinson’s plan would comply with the controversial House Bill 1403 signed recently by Gov. Rick Scott. That bill allows students to transfer in the middle of a school year and be eligible for athletics right away if: a) the season of their sport hasn’t started yet, and b) the move is approved by the local school district.
The TSAP committee, according to Robinson’s proposal, would consist of one district-level administrator, two senior high school principals, two senior high assistant principals and four community members appointed by the school board.
In the past, eligibility has been determined by administrations at each school.
“The school presents the information to an unbiased, unrelated committee,” Robinson said of his proposal. “It’s taking the onus away from the school and putting it with an impartial group of people. That’s where a lot of the issue has been.
"We're not saying a kid cannot enroll (at a new school), but enrollment and participation are two different things."
Joey Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org