AHSAA: Act won’t affect eligibility
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Mar 05, 2013 | 5919 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Opponents of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 claim it could lead to more widespread recruiting in high school sports, but the Alabama High School Athletic Association says there likely won’t be any changes in athletes’ eligibility.

The AHSAA released a statement Tuesday afternoon addressing what it said were “numerous questions regarding (the bill’s) impact on interscholastic athletics governed” by the association.

The Accountability Act, passed by the Alabama Legislature on Thursday night, included tax incentives for students who want out of failing public school districts. The bill would provide parents a refundable income tax credit to offset the cost of transferring a student to a non-failing public or private school.

The AHSAA requires athletes to live in the district of the school for which they play, regardless of where they legally can attend school. The association also has rules governing transfers, timing of eligibility and recruiting.

All will remain in force, the AHSAA statement said.

“A meeting Tuesday that included AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese and Alabama Senate leaders resulted in a clearer understanding of the Act as it relates to AHSAA rules,” the AHSAA’s statement said. “The leadership assured us that all Alabama High School Athletic Association rules would take precedent over any stipulation contained in the Act.

“In addition, they indicated that they completely support the AHSAA mission and that the AHSAA has full autonomy to coordinate and regulate its rules. In fact, the Act does not apply to or alter the rules established by AHSAA member schools.”

The statement was attributed to Savarese.

Court action has temporarily prevented Gov. Robert Bentley from signing the Accountability Act. In Montgomery, Circuit Judge Charles Price issued the order Tuesday morning after the Alabama Education Association, a teachers’ group, sued Monday.

The Act was passed by the Republican supermajority, and Democrats have joined some educators in expressing concerns that the legislation could encourage open season on athletes in failing school districts.

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, said the way the bill was passed was “unscrupulous,” and said the bill would lead to both private and public schools trying to recruit strong athletes away from Anniston and other high-poverty schools

AHSAA rules prohibit recruiting, though most involved with high school sports acknowledge privately that it happens. With the Accountability Act, the question becomes whether more recruiting will occur.

Eddie Bullock — Anniston High School’s athletics director, head football and head girls basketball coach — said he isn’t familiar with the Accountability Act in detail but can foresee more recruiting if there is an incentive to transfer.

“If that’s allowed, you could see where the coaches would come in and handpick athletes, the ones that they wanted, and try to entice them to come to another school,” he said. “I definitely could see that.”

Athletes who transfer still would have to satisfy AHSAA guidelines, which include a bona-fide move for immediate eligibility, but transfers are common. More could try with a tax incentive, and that could mean more incentive for coaches or other interests representing a school in a non-failing district to reach out.

Still, some question how much recruiting would increase.

“I just think, if people are recruiting, this might open up a couple of more options in terms of legalities to where it’s not wrong, but people who do it are going to do it,” Oxford boys basketball coach Joel Van Meter said. “People who don’t believe in it aren’t going to do it.

“I think what will happen is, those kids, they might end up coming to school. It’s just being able to figure out whether they just came to this school because they saw this as an opportunity, or were they enticed there?”

Van Meter speculated that it’s more likely to be a problem in bigger markets with more schools and more competitive environments. He said it’s been his observation that school jumping within Calhoun County and surrounding areas is rare.

Most often, he said, kids grow up in communities and go to school there.

Bullock said players often inform him that outsiders have pitched them on transferring. It’s usually not coaches but family or acquaintances associated with other schools communicating with players, often through social media.

Most often, Bullock said, players stay.

“For the most part, it’s the relationship that you have with the players and with the kids,” he said. “I think that’s one thing that I’ve established with my kids in football and girls basketball. I’m going to be honest with you, and I’m going to be straightforward with you.”

Then again, he said, reaching effects from the Accountability Act could test the strength of relationships and the ethics of coaches who have to adapt to win.

“People find ways to circumvent the system, so I’m sure that, if that passed, you would have some wheels that would start turning,” Bullock said. “Everybody wants to win, and not everybody necessarily wants to do it the right way.”

Statewide and capital reporter Tim Lockette contributed reporting from Montgomery

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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