Every legislative session has hundreds of bills introduced in the Mississippi House and Senate, and although some bills have merit, there are many others that are pointless, clueless, frivolous, and even retaliatory. Such a bill is Senate Bill 2006, which is a direct assault on the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA). To some people that may not be such a big deal, but it is a big deal! It is a big deal because this bill represents another power play in the state legislature. In a state that regularly rants and raves about too much federal government overreach, there is no shortage of bills introduced each year in the state legislature that embrace state government overreach.
SB 2006 calls for a three member committee to be established by the State Board of Education from its membership to study the regulation and oversight of high school athletics and activities as presently conducted by the MHSAA. There is nothing wrong with the state looking into the management of organizations operating as not-for-profit, but SB 2006 goes beyond conducting a study and making recommendations. Under Senator Gollott’s bill, the committee has final authority over policies regulating high school sports and activities as well as choosing a not-for-profit corporation such as the MHSAA to regulate athletics and activities in public schools. The bill gives the committee the authority to keep the MHSAA as the regulating organization or choose another not-for-profit organization to take its place. By mandate of the bill, the chosen not-for-profit organization must consent to being governed by a committee consisting of two members of the State Board of Education and three public members not associated with the administration of any school, school district, or athletic program. This governing committee would have veto power of any policy, rule, regulation or any other pronouncement the chosen regulatory organization made in regard to the regulation of school athletics or activities. In other words, the regulating corporation would be a puppet of the committee with no authority of its own other than what the committee extends to it.
Although there have been times as a coach and school administrator that I have disagreed with an interpretation ruling made by the MHSAA, I nevertheless have always found the organization’s decisions favored the student and the rules its members agreed to follow. Overall, I believe the MHSAA has done an excellent job of being as fair and consistent as humanly possible. Also, I have always found the organization to be very transparent in all financial matters regarding the organization. I shudder to think of the chaos that would have existed without this organization to mediate in disputes and misunderstandings between schools and school districts. Therefore, I am at a loss to understand why Senator Gollott would propose such a bill. Maybe, a disgruntled parent got to him or maybe, it is, as I suspect, about control and power. I don’t know for sure, but I am inclined to believe it is most likely a combination of the two.
To venture a guess as to what is behind SB 2006, I would say vouchers, recruiting, and parents. All three are plausible excuses for undermining the MHSAA:
- Vouchers! Taking control of the MHSAA would promote the use of vouchers. Under current MHSAA guidelines, there are strict eligibility regulations governing students moving between schools and participating in athletics. Such regulations are a deterrent to parents using vouchers since they do not want their child to risk losing a year of eligibility when transferring to a new school. If the state controlled the organization regulating eligibility, special exemptions could be allowed for students using vouchers to transfer between schools. With such exemptions in place, a major concern for parents using vouchers would be removed;
- Open recruiting! By forcing the MHSAA or some other regulatory organization to bow under the thumb of a controlling committee, open season recruiting across the state would become the norm. There would be nothing to prevent unscrupulous coaches or directors (of course, they would no longer be unscrupulous if there were no regulations against recruiting) from encouraging and enabling students in smaller or poorer schools to take their vouchers and come play for them; and
- Parents! If a parent disagreed with a ruling by the regulatory organization (MHSAA), they could simply go above the regulatory organization straight to the committee established by SB 2006. The organization would actually be little more than a “grunt work” entity; so ultimately, all major decisions would be made by the committee, so why waste time haggling with the second string.
The reason behind SB 2006 may be none of these, but there is one thing for sure, SB 2006 is state government overreach. Conducting a study is one thing, but passing a law that strips authority without just cause or due process and sets up an all powerful watchdog committee is Orwellian. If the MHSAA was profiting from funds that flow through it from schools, there might be a problem warranting a takeover. However, the organization is a not-for-profit corporation that in return for membership and participation fees provides a valuable service in the form of coordinating interscholastic activities such as rule interpretation and enforcement, scholarship, training, competitions, and promoting sportsmanship and citizenship. As a not-for-profit organization, the MHSAA maintains up-to-date documentation of all money flowing in and out its doors and reports annually to its members with financial statements; therefore, financial transparency is also not an issue. If the organization was non-responsive to its members or to parents that would most likely be grounds for going in another direction, but the MHSAA has always been responsive to its members and especially to parents. The decisions the organization has made over the years may not have always been the most popular, but their decisions have always followed the rules and guidelines as established in the MHSAA Handbook and supported by its members. There is a vast difference between non-responsive and responding with a disagreeable decision. So, what is the problem? That is a question that only Senator Gollott can answer, but his solution to whatever the problem may be is likely to open a brand new can of chaos.
SB 2006 makes little sense unless something unethical or illegal is taking place within the MHSAA. However, if that was true, the story would have been plastered all over the news by now, but that has not happened. Most likely a disgruntled parent is behind this bill, or considering recent events, promotion of parental choice is a likely motive, but regardless of what Senator Gollott was thinking when he penned SB 2006, there is one thing that stands out loud and clear, and that is he is clueless as to the good the MHSAA does for Mississippi students, coaches, directors, administrators, and parents. Hopefully, the members of the House Education Committee will recognize the merits of the MHSAA, or at least recognize that this bill is another shallow attempt for state government to tread where it does not belong. With a bit of luck and common sense, SB 2006 will be one of those bills that fail to make it out of committee.
©Jack Linton, PhD February 6, 2016