TAMPA — During the September Florida High School Athletic Association Board of Directors meeting in Gainesville, the board discussed at length altering a specific bylaw known as the “following the coach” rule.
Per FHSAA rules, student-athletes can’t play on club or AAU teams affiliated with a FHSAA-member school or coached by a representative of a school other than the one the student attends, or has attended.
“The challenge is to figure out how to protect student eligibility but at the same time, keep participation in non-school athletic activities from leading to recruiting in an attempt to create a competitive advantage,” said FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing in a release.
It was decided during the meeting that an organized workshop specifically pertaining to the bylaw would be held before the board’s next meeting Sunday and Monday in Gainesville.
Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson said violators of the “follow the coach” rule put the student’s eligibility at risk.
“The kids run the risk of becoming ineligible if they go to that school,” he said. “It’s perfectly legal to coach outside of high school, but by doing so, they run risk of jeopardizing the eligibility of the athletes coming to that school.”
Per the bylaws of the FHSAA, the non-profit organization that establishes rules and standards for the state’s high school athletes, “recruitment or attempted recruitment of students for athletic purposes is an act of unsportsmanlike conduct and is expressly forbidden.”
That includes contacting potential incoming freshmen known to live within a school’s district. Robinson said high school coaches can’t have contact with that student until he has officially enrolled.
Robinson also serves as a youth football coach. At games, he’s seen high school coaches watching from the sideline. Watching, Robinson said, is within the rules. Contacting the players is seen as illegal contact.
“Because of school choice, they don’t go to that school until they finish the eighth grade and are enrolled,” Robinson said. “The high school coach can’t be in contact with that kid at any point because he can still enroll at another school.”
Robinson said he could not recollect ever investigating illegal recruitment of middle school athletes.
Violations of illegal contact and recruitment have resulted in forfeits, payable fines and probationary periods.
Both Hillsborough and Pasco county school district athletic directors said transferring of athletes between schools was the biggest concern.
Whether the new policies will slow illegal contact or recruiting from non-school athletic programs remains to be seen.
“I think in every school district, our coaches are held accountable to follow FHSAA guidelines,” said Phil Bell, Pasco County supervisor of athletics and facilities. “That’s always been something we make sure people understand.”