Does SB 684 Really Benefit High School Athletics?
By: Danny Aiello Jr
Currently in appropriations lies SB 684 or the “Choice in Sports” bill. For those unfamiliar with the 25-page document can find the document as a whole here.
Proposed by Senators Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), SB 684 pushes for “controlled open enrollment” for students.
The bill could cause potential headaches in schools financially, as well as athletically the way it is currently written.
SB 684 currently calls for the “controlled open enrollment” to include any school in the state that isn’t at capacity.
“As part of a school district’s controlled open enrollment, and in addition to the existing public school choice programs provided in s. 1002.20(6)(a), each district school board shall allow a parent from any school district in the state whose child is not subject to a current expulsion order to enroll his or her child in and transport his or her child to any public school that has not reached capacity in the district.”
The problem as it pertains to athletics, is that SB 684 could breed a “powerhouse and punching bags” situation among high schools.
With premier athletes funneling to the “winning” school in the area, it could lead to the building of dynasty-type programs. The bill also calls for the transfer student to be eligible immediately to participate in athletics, as long as they are academically eligible. This could lead to situations to where the rules are bent so a star athlete could in theory play football at one school, before transferring to a different area to be part of a basketball powerhouse.
A student who transfers to a school during the school year may seek to immediately join an existing team if the roster for the specific interscholastic or intrascholastic extracurricular activity has not reached the activity’s identified maximum size and if the coach for the activity determines that the student has the requisite skill and ability to participate. The FHSAA and school district may not declare such a student ineligible because the student did not have the opportunity to comply with qualifying requirements.
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), the governing body of high school sports in Florida, disallows instant eligibility currently in an effort to combat cheating. However, in some cases hardship waivers are granted.
Despite a failed attempt in 2015, and disapproval of coaches and athletic directors, lawmakers again are trying to pass the bill.
Coaches are worried it could lead to recruiting and players essentially becoming free agents, able to “shop around” for the best program to play at.
While the FHSAA supports 684 because it comes down on recruiting, the thought of every student-athlete being eligible at every school in the state poses the threat of the bill looking hypocritical.
“That is tough to have it go into effect. In my opinion, it could potentially lead to what AAU Basketball has established.” Nature Coast football coach Justin Worden said. “You get a large group of kids playing together on a competitive team, then all choosing a school to continue playing together.”
Penalties as outlined in SB 684 for recruiting
- 1st Time – $5,000 forfeiture of pay for the school district employee or contractor who committed the violation.
- 2nd Time – Suspension without pay for 12 months from coaching, directing, or advertising an extracurricular activity and a $5,000 forfeiture of pay for the school district employee or contractor who committed the violation.
- 3rd Time – a $5,000 forfeiture of pay for the school district employee or contractor who committed the violation. If the individual who committed the violation holds an educator certificate, the FHSAA shall also refer the violation to the department for review pursuant to s. 1012.796 to determine whether probable cause exists, and, if there is a finding of probable cause, the commissioner shall file a formal complaint against the individual. If the complaint is upheld, the individual’s educator certificate shall be revoked for 3 years, in addition to any penalties available under s. 1012.796.
While recruiting is usually a taboo subject amongst athletic directors and coaches, there is evidence of it all over Florida as well and the nation.
AAU opened the door, as players from all over the state play with each other and develop bonds and friendships. Those players then unhappy with not winning, playing time or positions transfer to other schools, some even stating fake reasons for the transfer, denying it being athletically-motivated.
Jesse Nadelman wrote in RMF Magazine about the ongoing recruiting issue, saying “There’s no reason to limbo around recruiting because it’s not only vital for high school programs to do, but it’s also what’s best for the players.”
Despite already hefty punishments for recruiting and the threat of those punishments seeming severe, it is almost impossible to prove recruiting at the high school level. This bill would make it harder, in the sense that every school has an open door policy to every athlete.
Worden found positives in the plan in that it would take the students out of play as far as recruiting goes and allow the FHSAA to be more efficient in tracking the coaches and programs that are actually cheating and recruiting.
“The way it is now, FHSAA checks bills and drivers licenses to see where people live and that is a lot of time and resources.” Worden said. “By allowing kids to move, all FHSAA resources in theory could and should be focused on the coaches, programs and schools that recruit and bend their way around the rules.”
An athlete, as long as they have transportation, would be allowed to go anywhere in the state that isn’t at capacity.
Stargel stated that this helps non-affluent families balance the status-quo because it allows the families without the means to have more choices of schools as well.
Strargel went on to add that is doesn’t just help the standout athletes, because it would allow students who are on the bench at one school the opportunity to transfer and start somewhere else.
However, as adamant as they are that SB 684 is helping students, lawmakers fail to realize it could do more harm to athletes.
When a scout comes to watch a team’s star player, he is exposed to the other players and the opponents’ roster as well.
With the potential for powerhouses, those fringe athletes won’t see the game, or be on the schedule against the powerhouse. It would also allow scouts to stay centralized around the big-time school, without having to travel to various schools to see the 1-2 star players on each team.
Lost in the bill, are the financial ramifications that an “open enrollment” would have on schools as well as the districts.
For example, if Nature Coast and Springstead received in-county transfers up to capacity, that would potentially leave them underfunded and understaffed. While Central, Hernando and Weeki Wachee would be overstaffed and have teachers at risk of losing their jobs or having to move schools.
Hernando County School Board Deputy Superintendent Eric C. Williams was in favor of the academic advantages the bill brings. Wiliams spoke highly of the quality of the teachers in Hernando County, and stated that SB 684 could allow students to thrive under the transfer rules.
“We have some quality teachers in the county.” Williams said, “If this bill allows students to transfer to a school for an (Agricultural) Chemistry teacher, then it would benefit the student.”
Williams went on to say the the school board would do diligent research and have done research on the bill with their ultimate goal being the best interest of the student academically.
All said, the bill still has some length to go to be approved, but it could be in action as early as July 1st, 2016.
With no debate on the bill before it was passed through the Senate last week, the question looms if SB 684 is really best for the students.