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Changes sought for private schools


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2001

The battle between public and private schools will reach another level this week as the representative assembly of the Florida High School Activities Association gathers in Gainesville to discuss proposed changes in the rules that govern athletic programs.

Private schools are the target of several of the 16 proposals. Among those that will be discussed today and Tuesday:

A proposal, presented by 11 Panhandle-area public schools, that essentially would force private schools to compete against larger public schools. The plan would adjust "upward by 50 percent the student populations of private schools and university laboratory schools for the purpose of assigning such schools to classifications."

Proponents argue this would level the playing field, but private school administrators say such a move would hurt all teams across the state in response to the illegal practices of a few.

"It's absurd," Berkeley Prep athletic director Bobby Reinhart said. "It's the public schools' way to alleviate recruiting, but you can't penalize every school for what a few places are doing."

Reinhart said he would rather see tougher sanctions brought against schools that break the rules rather than broad penalties levied against all private schools.

Another proposal goes after the state's golf and tennis academies, such as Wesley Chapel's Saddlebrook, by requiring schools to compete in at least two sports per season to be eligible to compete in the state playoffs.

The proposal, sponsored by FHSAA commissioner Bob Hughes, notes that the NCAA and several other state high school organizations have similar measures.

The proposal would not affect a school's membership in the FHSAA but would impact its eligibility for state championships. The proposal would not take effect until July 2003, giving schools a two-year window to comply with new standards.

Another proposal would eliminate restrictions on high school coaches coaching their own players during the off-season. Currently, coaches cannot run any non-school team if more than half the players play for the coach in high school.

The so-called "50-percent" rule often is seen as a deterrent to recruiting, but Jesuit athletic director Sonny Hester said it can have the opposite effect, because coaches are unable to work their athletes out of season, making them more likely to join another coach at another school.

A nearly identical measure fell short of being ratified by a single vote last year, and Hester said his reasons for endorsing it are the same: High school coaches can give players a higher level of coaching in the off-season, and the current provision limits the opportunities coaches have to supplement their coaching income. What's more, the rule is applied with a heavy hand in rural areas, where there isn't another local team a coach could work with instead.

The FHSAA declined to comment on any proposals until they have been reviewed and voted on by the representative assembly.

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