Amid all the serious goings-on in the Legislature, some lawmakers think we need to change the way the state enforces its rules for high school sports. You ask if they don't have better things to do? That's the wrong question. High school football is Americana. It's mom serving hot apple pie. It's Friday Night Lights and the rocket's red glare. This issue can't lose. That's why there are bills in the House and Senate to make it harder for the Florida High School Athletic Association to intervene when athletes transfer from one school to another. Basically, the FHSAA would have to assume all transfer athletes have a “presumption of eligibility” until proven otherwise. For what it's worth, the Senate bill is sponsored by Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican. Lakeland also has one of the state's traditional powerhouse football programs.
If this becomes law, all I can say is release the hounds! You'll have prep quarterbacks and linebackers hopping from school to school. The best programs will keep winning. The weak ones will keep losing. In other words, it will be just what we have now. You can regulate recruiting and transfers from here to Mars, and motivated parents will travel to Jupiter to get around the rules. Bob Henriquez has excellent perspective on this. Before winning the election to become Hillsborough County's property appraiser last November, he was head football coach at Tampa Catholic High School. He also served in the Florida House. “Any coach who would say with a straight face that they're not involved with (recruiting) or doesn't know anything about it is not being truthful,” he said. “Go to a (Tampa Bay Youth Football League) game on a Saturday. High school coaches are out there, or their go-betweens are. You simply can't police it.” So why would the Legislature want to make it harder to police? “I think this had to start from some very powerful people who had their issues with the FHSAA — maybe with their kid, or a friend's kid,” Henriquez said. “So what they do is cut the FHSAA off at the knees.” If this passes, you wonder if the state should even pretend to be Big Brother over high school sports anymore. Hillsborough already has a four-page policy covering athletes who transfer within the county. Just let local school districts have the final say. “The fundamental question is whether athletics is a right or a privilege. The Legislature says it's a right. The FHSAA has long held it's a privilege,” Henriquez said. They're both wrong. High school football is big-time in Florida. Star players routinely hold nationally televised news conferences now to announce their college choices. ESPN has flown the football teams from Armwood, Plant and Jefferson to faraway places so they could play on national television. It's almost routine now. You wonder why players bend the rules to transfer? My only question is why more of them don't. This is the system schools have created. If lawmakers want to make that harder to control, it's a little late now to act surprised.