Proposed Bill Would Give Legislature Final say Over Idaho’s High School Sports –

BOISE — A Republican state legislator wants to strip the Idaho High School Activities Association of its power as the top authority over the state’s high school sports and activities.

A proposed bill from Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, would establish a new review board to oversee the state activities association. That three-member board would have the power to overturn or modify IHSAA rules and decisions with a majority vote.

The review board would include two appointed state legislators — one each from the House and Senate, as well as one member of the IHSAA. It would rule on complaints from parents, students, coaches, teachers or school administrators who oppose a final ruling from the IHSAA.

The proposed bill would also bar Idaho’s public and charter schools from allowing the IHSAA to oversee their sports and activities if it doesn’t agree to the review board.

“There has got to be something different than allowing the Idaho High School (Activities) Association to be judge, jury and executioner,” Crane told the Idaho Statesman in a phone interview. “And that’s the current process that you have.”

Crane and Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, presented the review board to the IHSAA and asked it to voluntarily agree to it. The IHSAA’s board of directors declined last week.

“I think they honestly feel it’s a legislative overreach,” IHSAA Executive Director Ty Jones said. “We already have an appeals process in place. You usually get up to two appeals, and we feel pretty comfortable with the way it’s set up.

“Our board is made up of every region in the state representing many different activity groups. It didn’t seem smart to them, or prudent, to have three people overrule a 15-person appeals board.”

Crane introduced his bill in the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. It has yet to receive a public hearing.

Backlash to COVID-19 crowd limitsCrane’s proposal adds another chapter to the Republican-dominated Idaho Legislature’s campaign to peel back restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Crane and Ehardt publicly scolded the IHSAA for the crowd limits it placed on its state basketball tournaments in February and March. Schools could open their gyms to 40% capacity under an exemption granted by Idaho Gov. Brad Little. But that exemption also allowed local schools to set their own lower limits.

Many of the schools hosting the state basketball tournaments in the Treasure Valley balked at filling their gyms to 40% capacity, IHSAA Assistant Director Mike Federico previously told the Idaho Statesman. And the Ford Idaho Center, home to the 5A state tournament and the state championship games, only offered to fill its arena to 27% capacity.

So the IHSAA used 27% capacity as its limit for its other tournament venues as well. It also required fans to wear masks at all times, but it did not enforce that requirement.

“It’s what our schools and our board felt comfortable with,” Federico said in February. “We want to be good stewards. We’re going to do what we’re asked to because we want to use those facilities.”

Jones added the IHSAA did not set any limits on fans during the regular season or district tournaments. He said those were determined by local schools and leagues.

Crane vowed to repeal the state’s gathering limits and pointed to high school sports as a primary reason. The House passed a bill sponsored by Crane and Ehardt to lift all gathering limits 55-15 on Feb. 10. But that bill has stalled in the Senate.

A ‘recourse’ for

IHSAA decisionsCrane labeled the IHSAA as an unaccountable organization, noting its board members are not publicly elected yet have authority over Idaho’s public schools.

The IHSAA board includes school superintendents, principals, athletic directors, coaches and teachers from around the state. None are paid.

“Part of the problem that we’ve been exposed to with COVID is some of these agencies have unelected representation that are making rules that infringe on individuals’ rights,” Crane said. “We’ve been very sensitive to that and view it through that lens of, how can we make sure that citizens feel like they have a recourse if there is a grievance there?”

IHSAA board members are elected. But instead of a public election, they are chosen by the regions or groups they represent in the IHSAA. For example, the boys coaches’ representative is chosen by the boys sports’ coaches around the state. Superintendents in the Treasure Valley select who fills their seat on the board.

“We don’t tell them how to pick,” Jones said. “They choose.”

Crane first suggested making the IHSAA part of the State Department of Education, giving the Legislature the power to set and control its budget. When that received a chilly reception, he said he then suggested creating a review board to oversee the IHSAA.

Crane and Ehardt said they left the meeting with the impression the IHSAA would accept a review board. Jones said he made no such commitment and that he only agreed to present it to his board, which rejected it.

Crane said that led him to introduce his bill.

“These are kids that we fund their education,” Crane said. “A lot of their sports programs we do fund and provide money for the schools to do that.

“I’m not going to continue to allow parents and student-athletes to be shut out of this process to where they can’t attend their kids’ games and we’re going to be told by a governing board, ‘This is how many patrons you can have in an athletic contest.’ ”

The state tournament crowd limits have received much of the attention. But Crane and Ehardt said their concerns extend beyond those limits.

“There’s a long list of complaints and frustrations,” Ehardt said. “This is not just about COVID. But COVID really brought things to light as far as something needs to change.”

What is the IHSAA?The Idaho High School Activities Association is a private nonprofit that supervises and regulates high school sports and activities. It sets policies that determine everything from the rules of a sport to how state tournaments are run to which athletes are eligible to compete.

Its history dates to 1925, when it was formed by schools to settle squabbles between their sports programs. Its main sources of revenue come from state tournaments, school membership fees and grants and contributions. It operates as largely revenue neutral, turning a profit of $33,719 in 2018 and $17,549 in 2017, according to recent tax filings.

Current disputes start with local schools, who can then raise concerns to the district boards of control that oversee the state’s six regions. Should that fail to resolve an issue, the IHSAA board of directors stands as the top level of governance.

But the proposed review board could trump any of its decisions. For example, it could decide where state tournaments are located, which classification schools play in and the eligibility of transfer students if it received complaints on those topics.

“To us,” Jones said, “it’s opening up a huge can of worms when we already have a procedure and process in place that allows people and schools the opportunity to appeal.”

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