High school sports bill could create ‘free agency market’

Florida, known as a springboard for pro and college athletes, may soon overhaul how high school athletics work in the state, including making changes to eligibility and even who oversees competitions.

A Florida House on Wednesday passed a sweeping bill that backers say would help students wanting to compete in high school sports. A version of the legislation is moving in the state Senate, although two years ago senators scuttled a similar bill.

But critics contend the legislation would essentially open the door for schools to recruit student athletes to switch schools. They say the bill is being pushed by legislators upset with the Florida High School Athletics Association — the Gainesville-based governing body that oversees competitions in dozens of sports including football and basketball.

The bill (HB 7137) will make it easier for students to take classes at one school but participate in sports at another school and it would also make it harder to prove that a student is ineligible to compete.

It also makes changes to how eligibility disputes are handled, places limit on the fees charged by the association, changes how the nonprofit organization works and sets up a process that could lead to Florida stripping responsibilities from the group.

Rep. Manny Diaz, a Miami Republican, contended the bill was not a “witch hunt” against the current association, but during debate defended the bill by saying that the rules that high school athletes must follow now were archaic and didn’t reflect the education options now available in the state.

“If parents have the choice of making a decision on their child’s education, we should not stop those children from participating,” said Diaz. “At the end of the day let’s bring it back to the kids.”

Rep. Kevin Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat, contended that the bill was drawn by “disgruntled” legislators and change how schools approach athletics in the state. He said that even though thousands of student athletes participate in the state only a handful of eligibility cases ever go through the existing process.

“When you have a bill that is going to create this free agency market, this allowing of student athletes, kids, to pick their coach, to choose where they want to go to school, it is just wrong,” Rader said during debate on the floor.

 

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