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National prep sports organization backs FHSAA in fight vs. legislature

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Thu. April 18, 2013 | Matt Baker | Email

As two bills critical of the Florida High School Athletic Association find new signs of life in the legislature, the state’s governing body for high school sports has added another vocal ally.

The National Federation of State High School Associations issued a rare resolution this week supporting the FHSAA against proposals to overhaul its structure, limit its investigative powers, weaken its finances and make it easier for athletes to shop schools.

“We live in an age and time of society where absolutely no one wants to hear ‘No…’ ” NFHS executive director Bob Gardner said Thursday in a teleconference. “Those people go to anybody that they can find that they think can overturn that and get their way and say yes. Unfortunately in this instance, they’ve chosen to go to the legislature.”

And the legislature is slowly pushing the bills forward. House Bill 1279 is waiting to be heard on the House of Representatives floor.

Its weaker companion, Senate Bill 1164, was considered dead before being resurrected in the Senate’s education committee.
Committee chairman Sen. John Legg said he had “extreme reservations and concerns” about the bill but will allow it to be discussed Monday morning.

“We know it’s important to the House and several other individuals,” said Legg (R-Lutz). “So we wanted to hear the debate. We’re not afraid of the debate.”

Neither is FHSAA commissioner Roger Dearing, who had his second conference call with reporters to defend his organization against the bill.

Dearing reiterated his fears that easing transfer restrictions would cause free agency and indirectly cited last fall’s Countryside scandal. That’s when a Canadian quarterback, who was not an American citizen or living with his legal guardians, moved in and displaced a player who was correctly zoned for the school and had been biding his time to start.

“Here’s a young man who was cheated out of that opportunity …because of the unscrupulous acts of others,” Dearing said.

Though the FHSAA has only conducted 13 investigations in the past two years, Dearing said the state is still dealing with people taking extreme steps to try to influence players. One school recently offered an athlete a car, Dearing said, while another star basketball player in the Panhandle played at four different schools in four years.

Critics of the FHSAA remain vocal. Representatives at a committee hearing earlier this month said the association assumes players are guilty, not innocent. During Thursday’s teleconference, one TV reporter blasted Dearing as a “dictator.”

One provision of HB 1279 goes so far as to threaten to end the FHSAA’s status as the state’s body for high school sports in July 2017. Dearing said he thinks a few legislators want to learn in four years the tasks the FHSAA has done for 93 years.

But Dearing continues to defend the non-profit association. He said the bills would make it easier for people to cheat and harder to defend schools and players who are following the rules.

“It represents simply bowing down to the guilty,” Dearing said.

Staff writer Jeffrey Solochek contributed to this report. Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

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