Fed up with the association that oversees high school athletics in Oklahoma, three state legislators announced plans Monday to force changes there but not to take it over.
“We don't like how they treat our kids. We think our kids ... our student-athletes deserve a lot better,” Rep. Bobby Cleveland said of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association.
The OSSAA considers itself a private voluntary association. It oversees extracurricular activities for nearly every public school in Oklahoma for grades seven through 12. It makes decisions on the makeup of athletic districts, playoffs and student transfers and eligibility.
Last fall, coaches and parents complained during legislative hearings about the association's decisions. Also, the Oklahoma Supreme Court slammed it for arbitrary and capricious actions against a football team.
During a news conference Monday, Cleveland, R-Slaughterville; Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne; and Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie; revealed possible legislative fixes.
The key proposal involves tighter legislative oversight.
Specifically, that key proposal would give the Legislature the power to reject association's rules, such as how football playoff money is split.
“We don't want to make it a direct state agency with a whole new level of government ... but we do think administrative oversight ... would be some way to allow legislators to keep an eye on what goes on without having heavy-handed pressure,” Blackwell said.
“If superintendents came and said, ‘We're not getting a fair shake. They passed this rule. It really hurts us. Could you look at it?' We could look at it, disapprove and say, ‘Go back and try again,'” Blackwell said.
Another bill revamps how eligibility rulings are made.
Currently, the OSSAA's board considers a student's appeal if OSSAA administrators find the student is ineligible to participate in sporting events. A student can go to court if the board rejects the appeal.
The bill takes the OSSAA board out of the eligibility process. Instead, an independent administrative law judge would hear all students' appeals.
Blackwell said the change should reduce how much the OSSAA spends on hiring attorneys to handle eligibility disputes.
The OSSAA spent $398,953 on legal fees during the last fiscal year, records show.
Also during the news conference, the legislators again suggested the OSSAA is not transparent enough, even failing to record who voted how on key actions.
Legislation proposed by Cleveland would force the OSSAA to follow the Open Meeting Act and the Open Records Act.
Legislators begin their regular session next week.
OSSAA Executive Director Ed Sheakley told legislators in October the association can make changes on its own.
In a news release Monday afternoon, the association said: “Consistent with OSSAA's Constitution and its practice going back numerous years, regional meetings were held throughout the state this past fall to discuss prospective changes in OSSAA's rules and policies.
“A written survey also was sent to OSSAA's membership asking about proposed changes for this year. Based on the input from the fall meetings and the written survey responses, OSSAA plans to send out ballots after its February board meeting for a vote of the membership on proposed changes, which include the addition of an intermediate appeals panel and changes to some athletic eligibility rules.”
The association also stated in the release it already is complying with the Open Records Act and the Open Meeting Act.
“Votes are taken in public, with the media in attendance at board meetings,” it stated in the release.
“OSSAA makes its financial results and its annual outside audit report available to the public and to state government officials each year.”