Eligibility Bill: It Seems State Politicians Weren't Listening
Thu. April 26, 2012 at 11:50 p.m. | By Solange Reyner
By SOLANGE REYNER
There's a large amount of opposition to House Bill 1403, a bill sponsored by Lakeland's Kelli Stargel, and it's coming from county athletic directors across the state, people embedded in their communities.
So why didn't Stargel or members of the legislature listen to them when voting to pass it?
The bill, which is sitting on Gov. Rick Scott's desk, would change the way eligibility is determined for high school athletes. He has until Saturday to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
There are other sticking points, too, but the biggest thing that stands out is that students will be eligible to participate in sports at a new school even if their transfer is during the middle of the year, just as long as the student has transferred pursuant to school district policies.
Currently, the Florida High School Athletic Association, the governing body for high school sports in Florida, does not allow students to participate in sports at the new school until the beginning of the next school year unless the student qualifies under one of four exceptions: making a full-and-complete move; necessary move into a new residence; move to a new residence following marriage; or reassignment by the district.
The new bill would restrict the authority of the FHSAA to determine whether a "full and complete" move occurred.
"This bill would put a lot more pressure on the school system," said Cheryl Golden, the supervisor of high school athletics in Miami-Dade County, which has 38 public schools. "It takes a lot more time away from the curriculum. Principals don't have the time to deal with this. Neither do district personnel."
It would also give parents more leeway to take their kids from one program, if they're not happy with the coach or the team's results, and put them in one they think would get their child noticed more.
"It allows too many unscrupulous parents and organizations to manipulate the rules," said Don Bridges, the director of athletics in Polk County.
Why? Because the new bill maintains that students cannot be ruled ineligible for violating recruiting rules unless the student or the parent falsifies documents or accepts a prohibited benefit.
That's going to be harder to prove now, and there will be more loopholes. Here's a scenario: Your kid is good at football, so he goes to Lakeland. He doesn't think he's getting enough playing time so, midseason, he transfers to Lake Wales to play basketball because, oh by the way he's good at that sport, too. And oh yeah, he's only a junior. And next year, he wants to head to Lake Gibson to play football because he thinks he'll have a shot there to start. Now, that's an extreme situation. Are parents that crazy? Some are.
Don't get me wrong. There are good things in this legislation. I think the due-process bit is much needed as is the added accountability on the coaches (see related story, A1).
Stargel said this bill is best for the kids. It might be in some ways. But I think it's unfortunate when our politicians don't do their due diligence and listen to the critics who see things first hand.