The fate of the South Carolina High School league may be in the hands of its members this weekend.
The independent group that has governed state high school sports for 100 years will discuss changes to its decision-making when it holds its spring meeting in Charleston.
State lawmakers will be watching, poised with two bills to restructure the leagues’ leadership and create an Office of Interscholastic Athletics under the Department of Education.
A Senate panel Wednesday heard testimony on a bill that mirrors one that is on the House floor; both in response to increasing criticism of decisions made by the league’s leadership in the past two years.
Critics told of what seemed to be arbitrary decision-making and lack of response to questions or complaints.
“If they are not members of the league, I owe them no explanation,” said the SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton after the hearing.
He explained that he and the executive committee work from a baseline of rules in the league constitution and that few appeals are denied.
“To date, beginning July 1 (2012) to March 6, we’ve had 168 appeals that were presented to the league, asking for an exception a rule that we currently have…We’re talking basically eligibility rules. Of the 168, I have the first authority to set aside any part of the rule; I approved 86 of them. Of the 82 that was not approved, 45 of them were presented to the executive committee. Of the 45, 38 of them were approved. That leaves seven that pursued it that were not approved,” Singleton said.
Goose Creek football coach Chuck Reedy appealed to the Senate subcommittee to let the league make its changes internally first, and soon: “Give us the opportunity to see if changes are made. If they are not willing to make changes, I would strongly encourage you to make the changes for them because this organization is broken and they are not serving the young men and women who compete in athletics in this state.”
A legislative assembly of delegates representing high schools across the state will vote on a long list of changes to the league’s constitution, two directly address the issues in the Statehouse bills. They will vote on whether to have one person to serve as the appeals authority. Right now, the executive committee hears appeals to the leagues own decisions. Another amendment would offer other sanctions than forfeiture of each game in which an ineligible player participates.
State Rep. Mike Anthony, a former, longtime football coach at Union High School, says he will go to this weekend’s meeting to convince its leaders to change their own operations so that lawmakers won’t.
“I’m going to talk down there this weekend to these guys and let them understand that you and I can do as this bill says, whether they like it or not. I know we as a body of both the House and the Senate have these guys as our constituents,” he told the Senate panel.
The State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais and Senate education subcommittee chair Wes Hayes want to see what happens this weekend before supporting any measure to restructure the league.
Senate Bill Sponsor Chip Campsen, a former high school athlete himself, said he is moving forward regardless of what the High School League decides:
“No matter what happens on Saturday, what is becoming clear to me is that you need an independent body that does not import their agendas into these decisions. You need to have an independent body that is conversant with athletics, that understands it but is not worried about who is going to win the next state championship.”