State high school athletic associations are never terribly popular, as no rule-making and rule-enforcing authority tends to be. But in Georgia has carried this froth to a new level.
In March, the executive director of the Georgia High School Association, which oversees sports and activities in the state, agreed to retire in the face of legislative pressure. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
The Georgia High School Association will begin the search for a new executive director after Gary Phillips agreed to retire at the end of the 2016-17 school year in a move to appease Georgia legislators who threatened to put the organization under state control. …
Phillips’ position was jeopardized by the introduction of House Bill 415 and Senate Bill 203, which called for replacing the GHSA with a new statewide governing body that would operate under the state board of education. Phillips agreed to retire early in an attempt to derail those bills.
In most states, including Georgia, state government has no direct rule on a high school association, which tends to be a privately run group that happens to have a lot of public schools in it. But this kind of action for state control isn’t unprecedented. For example, in neighboring Florida, the state high school athletic association has operated under a state charter since 1997 after legislators tried to take control of school sports, and the arrangement allows them to pass laws directly affecting the Florida High School Athletic Association.
In Georgia’s case, the bills introduced (sponsored by six members of each body — all Republicans) would have authorized the formation of a new high school association that was not under direct state control, though state education department officials would be a part of its board. Phillips’ retirement appears to have satisfied legislators, who according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, are backing off for now thanks to these recent moves.
The reason for this legislative action is that, as happens in most states, there was a feeling the state high school association wasn’t transparent and responsive to the public. But part of the issue, too, and why other states are feeling the need to get involved legislatively with state high school associations, is that the model of high school sports is falling apart.
The idea was that you organized schools by enrollment, and that athletes just happened to be students who played for the glory of their schools. But more aggressive athletic transfers, the rise of charter schools, voucher schools, home-schooled students and sports-only academies, and competition from travel sports has complicated the school sports landscape. High school associations are have to adjust, and it’s not going to make them popular, and it probably will mean more legislators feel the need to get involved.