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Monday, February 20, 2012

Steve Wise ignores public education experts to push private school agenda

From the Florida Times Union

by Matt Dixon

A bill aimed at making it easier for private high school athletes to play for public schools cleared its second committee stop Monday.

Currently, only students at private schools with less than 125 students and no athletic programs can play on public school teams. A bill sponsored by state Rep. Kelli Stargell, R – Lakeland, would up that cap to 250 people.

Opponents say the “open transfer” policy would allow for recruiting, while backers say the easier transfer is needed, and there are penalties in place to act as a deterrent.

An amendment added to the bill increases penalties on schools and coaches involved in player recruiting. The bill would no longer allow athletes to be suspended in recruiting cases unless they falsifies enrollment information, or directly receives benefits.

Under the amended bill, a school caught recruiting could be bumped up a classification, and face fines. The new sanctions on coaches could include suspending or removing the ability to coach in Florida High School Athletic Association games. A coach could also not escape their sanctions by going to another school.

The legislation also creates “due process” procedure for coaches sanctioned under the new language. The bill leaves it up to FHSAA to establish guidelines for the procedure.

Backers say the beefed up sanctions will help deter recruiting. Others are not as convinced.

“Our fear is this open transfer will create an open door policy for behind the scenes recruiting, and that’s our biggest fear,” Roger Dearing, FHSAA’s executive director.

Supporters said the amended bill puts in place tough penalties, while allowing for needed transfers.

“I think that when I hear from a constituent when a nephew was not able to play his senior football because the private school he went to closed down, there is something wrong,” said state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R – Orlando.

He also said that lawmakers can work on improving the legislation in its last committee stop.

“If there are improvements to be made [Stargel] will make them,” he said.

The Senate companion bill approaches the issue differently. It makes the 11-member Sunshine Independent Athletic Association the governing body of the state’s private and independent schools, a responsibility currently held by the more than 700-member FHSAA. It would be optional for additional schools to join SIAA.

Under his bill, private and independent teams that joined SIAA could play FHSAA schools, which is currently not allowed.

Wise said that bill offers greater choice to private and independent schools that may want out of FHSAA. During a Senate committee hearing, the FHSAA was called “monopolistic.”

His bill has one remaining committee stop.

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