House resolution threatens IHSA status quo

By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter

The Illinois High School Athletic Association (IHSA) is starting to come under fire from multiple directions. Several interesting developments have occurred that could go a long way to shaping the future of the organization.

Recently, a resolution was proposed in the Illinois House of Representatives that asked for the IHSA to provide full records on all money and contracts, in a hope to come up with accountability and transparency.

As currently constructed, the IHSA is a not-for-profit organization that has a board of directors composed of principals and executives from member schools. But ultimately, there is no one to whom the organization has to answer.

House Resolution 895, which was brought by state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, recently passed by a vote of 55-51. This resolution is attempting to give the IHSA someone to answer to.

The IHSA, understandably, is upset by the resolution. They do post their annual reports on their website each year, and feel as though they are doing nothing wrong and have nothing to hide.

We felt unfairly targeted with the way this all came about,” IHSA Executive Director Mary Hickman said in a recent statement. “But what’s done is done. The hearings are going to happen, so our mindset now is the sooner the better. We want to show the representatives how we operate and clear up any misconceptions they may have.”

Ultimately, this is likely to be a lot of smoke, but no fire. Much of what state Rep. Chapa LaVia brought up on the House floor had nothing to do with the financial aspects, including a scandal with plagiarism with the Scholastic Bowl State Series.

State Rep. Chapa LaVia has made it clear this is not a witch hunt. But it does feel awfully familiar to past cases of notoriety in Illinois.

Notorious mobster Al Capone was never convicted of much of his alleged crime. But he was convicted of breaking tax laws, and that is what eventually put him behind bars.

That is not to suggest the IHSA is a corrupt organization. In fact, they appear to be far from it. But this does feel like the first shot fired across the bow for an increasingly large group of people that are looking for change from the organization.

The fact of the matter is, as currently constructed, the IHSA does not work. It is set up to govern its member institutions with a set of rules that are outdated for an athletic environment that has outgrown them.

We have seen the change at the college level, and the NCAA is feeling the heat there. Athletics are no longer an extracurricular activity. There is money, both for the school and potentially in the future for the athletes.

Some students are still the true student-athlete model, but that is becoming fewer and further between. That is especially true at the high school level, where there is college scholarship money available in every sport these days.

Schools put big money into athletics. You don’t have to look any further than fieldhouses that are being built for the Rockford public schools. Winning for the schools and exposure for the students is the name of the game.

Countless transfer cases are being overseen these days. Some, like the Homewood-Flosmoor girls’ basketball team, are even going to the court system if they don’t go the students’ way. And that is just the tipping point.

The fact of the matter is the IHSA is unpopular these days. If they don’t change with the times, it may not take long for them to go away.

All they have to do is look at the NCAA, which is being dragged kicking and screaming toward change. And there is a high likelihood its member institutions leave instead of waiting much longer for that change.

The IHSA is staring the same dilemma in the face. They can look at themselves in the mirror and make some changes now. Or, they can conduct business as usual until its members decide they are not necessary.

This is the first shot toward that. Ignore what the resolution is. The IHSA certainly should. It says it is about money, accountability and transparency. The reality is this is a threat to their future. And if changes aren’t made, all the transparency in the world won’t keep them around.

From the April 16-22, 2014, issue

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