Our World Is Not Round: IHSAA Dodges a Bullet

There is a Latin term that fits in this story: "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" or "Who watches the watchers?" Indiana high school sports are extremely popular. I have always said that across the board, Indiana is one of the best high school sport states in America.

The IHSAA(Indiana High School Athletic Association) promotes every state championship series and fans seem to turnout whether it is for basketball, football, swimming or track and field.

If you look at some of the venues, you will know why. The new Lucas Oil Stadium, Conseco Field House and Victory field are all professional sports venues. Add to that list the natatorium and the track and field facilities on the IUPUI campus where national Olympic finals have been held and people go just to enjoy the competition at world class facilities. However, the IHSAA also has its critics.

This past week, the IHSAA dodged a bullet called the Indiana House of Representatives. A bill cleared the first hurdle and actually got out of committee and into the mix for the House to consider. The basic foundation was to put the control of Indiana high school athletics into the hands of the Indiana Department of Education. Saber rattling had happened before, but it had never gone this far and actually cleared a House committee.

South Bend Representative David Niezgodski (D) proposed a bill that would put the oversight of Indiana high school sports in the hands of the Indiana DOE. In the media, he said, "The IHSAA is the living embodiment of the faceless, nameless bureaucracy that is able to thrive because it is not accountable to anyone. With House Bill 1733, we will provide the accountability that has been lacking." Then with a sudden swiftness, the bill actually came out for consideration by the House.

There is always a motivation and it is not lacking this time because a court battle had been brewing with a local South Bend high school athlete whose transfer from Elkhart Memorial High School had been denied. Jasmine Watson, a basketball player, had transferred from Elkhart Memorial to South Bend Washington High School. Elkhart claimed it was solely for athletic reasons and The IHSAA agreed. The battle was on. Ultimately, a court injunction has allowed Jasmine to play for S.B. Washington.

But, on February 25, Niezgodski pulled the legislation. "They must have many more important people than a family in Elkhart who has lost everything they had and had to relocate," Niezgodski said. "I guess the people working this were a lot stronger than that little family."

Truthfully, I don't want the Indiana state government running Indiana high school sports. I suppose we could lobby the IHSAA and schools to allow anyone who wants to transfer and play sports to go unabated anywhere they want. Most of us realize that would never be a positive scenario for high school sports. Several are calling for a blanket rule that all transfers are treated the same with no exceptions. There are always exceptions.

So, is there gloating going on over on 9150 Meridian street today? I hope not, because I see this as a wake up call. The number one aggravation people write about is the IHSAA's arrogance. This time I wrote my state representative, my state senator and the Speaker of the Indiana house asking them to squash this bill. In fact, I know that many from the Indiana high school football community did the same thing. The one thing The Gridiron Digest has is a voice to the thousands that read daily. Somebody has deep pockets, because it costs money to go to court. This fight isn't over. But, let's watch and see if the IHSAA goes to school on this issue. Public relations is not the IHSAA's forte, and if South Bend Washington wins the class 4A state final, they will have to muster every ounce of PR savvy or take that championship away if the courts rule in their favor.

It is time to write a better transfer rule that doesn't take away the short time a high school athlete has to play high school sports. The IHSAA dodged a bullet (in my opinion) and who wins the 2009 Class 4A state girls basketball championship could be the "Tipping Point."

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