LINCOLN — An effort to level the playing field in high school sports is likely headed to an organization that oversees such athletics.
A representative of the Nebraska School Activities Association told a panel of state lawmakers Monday that the organization would consider rule changes in April to discourage last-minute or illegitimate student transfers due to sports.
Rhonda Blanford-Green, the NSAA's executive director, said proposed changes to the organization's bylaws should address many, but not all, of the concerns raised by a state senator about competitive imbalance and alleged “recruiting” among the state's high school sports teams.
“As a leader of the NSAA, I hear the concerns,” Blanford-Green told the Legislature's Education Committee. “Allow us as an organization to address them.”
She commented after a public hearing Monday on a proposal that would require high school sports teams that are highly successful to move up and compete against larger schools.
Legislative Bill 1081, introduced by State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, would also make students who transferred after May 1, without changing residence, ineligible for sports for 180 school days. That would be an entire school year.
The Education Committee took no action on the bill after the hearing. Because no state senator has prioritized the bill, it is unlikely to be debated this year.
Karpisek admitted that LB 1081 was not a “perfect solution” but said he hoped it would spark a debate about competitive balance in high school sports. He said he has received plenty of comments about the proposal and was encouraged that the NSAA was looking at some of his concerns.
“They're starting slowly, but they're doing something,” Karpisek said.
The senator said one study showed that from 1997-98 to 2003-04, about 26 percent of state championships were won by private or parochial high schools, yet they made up only 12 percent of the state's total high schools at that time.
“There's some smoke there. What's going on?” the senator asked.
LB 1081 was based on a system used in Indiana that bumped up five schools in football and three in volleyball last year due to their dominance against schools of their own size.
The proposal inspired plenty of questions from members of the Education Committee during Monday's hearing.
No one testified in favor, and only one person testified against the bill, Patrick Slattery, the superintendent of the Archdiocese of Omaha and the former principal of Skutt Catholic High School.
Skutt won its 16th Class B state wrestling championship in 17 years last weekend. Slattery said that after the school won such titles, he would get a deluge of derogatory emails accusing Skutt of recruiting and offering scholarships, but none of that is true.
Skutt's student body, he said, is 99 percent Catholic, and families choose the school for religious reasons. All scholarships, Slattery said, are based on financial need or academic achievement, not athletics.
Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski, a former principal of Millard West High School, said the biggest problem is summer sports camps. He called them “recruiting camps.”
The NSAA can and has disciplined coaches if they use “undue influence” to lure a student to a school, but officials said Monday that is often hard to prove.
Blanford-Green, who testified in a neutral position on LB 1081, said there may be ways to discourage the influence of camps and club teams. But she said parents and kids, as early as little-league teams, are already talking about which schools they will attend. Coaches are often not involved, Blanford-Green said, when a student chooses a high school.