A Florida House committee advanced a proposal Tuesday that would regulate how much money in fees and dues that the governing body of Florida high school athletics can take in, and also allow schools to pick and choose what sports for which they're a member of that organization.
Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, says small, private schools suffer by having to follow rules set by the Florida High School Athletic Association because they have to comply with those rules for all sports, even though they might only offer a single sport. Private schools are not required to join the FHSAA.
"They have to comply with every single rule, every single regulation, every single tedious requirement and they have to provide the FHSAA with gate receipts. Even if they don’t participate in that sport, the FHSAA has their hand in their pocket," Spano said.
His legislation (HB 31) would allow schools to join the FHSAA on a per-sport basis and give them the option of joining other alternative associations for other sports.
FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing said the organization provides infrastructure support to 805 member schools that smaller athletic associations can't match. He said allowing schools such an a-la-carte option could create problems for schools and student-athletes by forcing them to comply with various sets of rules, depending on the associations the schools want to be a part of.
With the potential for various associations overseeing particular sports in different ways, Dearing said it also could result in overlapping sports seasons, which would be problematic for multi-sport student-athletes.
However, the proposal has backing from one such alternative association, the Sunshine State Athletics Conference, which has 35 member schools that want more freedom in how they compete.
"We feel the best thing this legislature could do is offer choice and give control back to schools," president Stuart Weiss said.
Spano's bill would also restrict how much in fees and dues the FHSAA could charge to only as much as the organization needs to put on events. Spano describes it as a cost-accountability measure, and he also noted that the non-profit association has more than $5 million in the bank, or about the same amount as its annual budget.
Dearing said the language of the bill misunderstands the FHSAA's revenue stream and he said the association shouldn't be penalized for sound financing.
Having a 100-percent fund balance, in case something happens, is "a good business practice; I don't think we should be criticized for that," Dearing said.
Dearing added that only half of the FHSAA's $5.2 million annual budget comes from event fees, so already, "we don't collect more than what it costs to do it." The balance of the association's budget comes from sponsorships, he said.
"I would like to have someone explain the logic of monitoring dues and fees, when we can show you a direct history of how we’ve alleviated the costs from our schools and passed that on to third-party entities," Dearing said.
The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee advanced Spano's bill by a 12-0 vote on Tuesday, although some representatives said they had some concerns that they wanted Spano and the FHSAA to hash out before future committee stops.
The bill now goes to the full House budget committee.
A Senate bill by Republicans Don Gaetz, of Niceville, and Kelli Stargel, of Lakeland, includes similar provisions as Spano's bill but goes much farther by also relaxing eligibility requirements for student-athletes. That hasn't been heard in committee yet.