Bill to stop 'rampant recruiting' in Ky. high school athletics faces long odds

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMarch 7, 2013 

State Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps

A bill aimed at reducing "rampant recruiting" of high school athletes in Kentucky cleared the House earlier this week but probably won't gain traction in the Senate during the waning days of the 2013 General Assembly.

Senate Education Committee chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said Wednesday that he had not heard about House Bill 357. It was not on the agenda for his Thursday committee meeting, which could be the last of this legislative session.

The bill would revive a policy that allows the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to penalize schools that allow an ineligible student to play based on a court order, if that court order is later overturned.

Most court orders involving high school athletes deal with the KHSAA's transfer rule, which says a student athlete cannot compete for a year after changing schools, except under specific conditions.

Concerned that the KHSAA was placing itself above the law, a group of legislators persuaded the Kentucky Board of Education in 2009 to change the controversial KHSAA policy about court orders. The change meant that high school officials no longer had to be afraid of penalties or warnings when they allowed athletes to compete because of a judge's order.

State Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, said the policy change has led to the recruiting of student athletes, which is not allowed by the KHSAA.

"Rampant recruiting is taking place and the KHSAA is unable to do anything about it," Hall said. "It's become a joke and a mockery in high school athletics. Any kid can go and get a judge to stay" a KHSAA ruling that says the student cannot play.

In those cases, the student athlete is allowed to play, Hall said, "and nobody is held accountable and nobody gets repercussions."

Hall's HB 357 won House approval Tuesday by a vote of 55 to 31.

State Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, who was among the lawmakers who pushed the state school board to change its policy in 2009, said Hall's bill is unfair.

"School districts are put in a no-win situation to be going against what the court says to do," Damron said. "Once again we have kids caught up in a battle between adults."

KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said Tuesday that it has been harder to enforce KHSAA rules without the policy. Since 2009, Tackett said, there have been more student athletes transferring from other states and countries, and more judges are issuing orders allowing those students to play.

There have been at least three cases in Pike County, where Hall lives, in which students have played under court injunctions, Tackett said.

Schools that are members of the KHSAA think that schools, not judges, need decide who plays, Tackett said. Students have several levels of appeal within the KHSAA "without the judges getting involved," he said.

HB 357 says that when ineligible students are permitted to play interscholastic athletics because of a restraining order or injunction and the order or injunction is vacated, stayed, reversed, or ruled unjustified, then the school attended by the student may be penalized.

Without such a rule, the KHSAA "didn't have the means to really hold schools accountable and hold schools responsible for either allowing recruiting to take place or accepting these students who had been recruited," Hall said.

Another key component of the bill would require any court action challenging an athletic eligibility ruling by the KHSAA to be filed in Franklin Circuit Court, instead of in courts across the state.

Having all cases in one jurisdiction would "level the playing field," so there would not be a "variance of opinions on what's legal and what's not legal," Hall said.

Tackett said having judges all over the state decide whether a student athlete can play, coupled with the fact that schools can't be held accountable for deciding to play a student under injunction, "has been detrimental to rules enforcement."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears.

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