LIKE a referee in a basketball game, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association is catching grief from all sides. Not many are very happy with the OSSAA right now.
As the organization that oversees high school sports (and other extracurricular activities) in Oklahoma, the OSSAA wields considerable clout. It deals with everything from athlete eligibility, to the makeup of districts, to the sites and starting times of playoff games. And to date it has done so, according to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, without enough scrutiny. That's about to change.
Justice Yvonne Kauger, writing for the majority in a 7-2 opinion this week in a case involving Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah, said the court had allowed the OSSAA, “in the guise of a voluntary association, to govern the affairs of secondary school athletics in Oklahoma with near impunity. No more.”
The OSSAA considers itself a voluntary organization, but Kauger said its role “goes above and beyond that of a traditional volunteer association,” and thus, “closer scrutiny when reviewing its actions is a necessity.”
The Sequoyah case stemmed from the football team being kept out of the playoffs last year after the OSSAA said the school improperly had paid for players to attend football camps. It was only the latest OSSAA case to wind up before the state's high court.
This spring, the court was asked to decide a case involving a baseball team that had been removed from the Class A state tournament because the OSSAA said it played too many games during the season. The tournament was held up for more than a month as the case was adjudicated (the team wound up being allowed to play).
In 2005, Shawnee's quarterback kicked an opponent during a Class 5A playoff game, which merited his ejection and subsequent two-game suspension. The school appealed in a process that lasted about three weeks and ended up before the high court, which ruled in favor of the OSSAA.
The OSSAA felt in each case that the rules were clear — if you exceed the games limit, there's a penalty; if a player is ejected from a game, there's a penalty, etc. — but one complaint about the association is that its rules are anything but clear. The attorney for the Sequoyah High School player who challenged the OSSAA called its policies in the case “convoluted and inconsistent.”
“You sit down to read them, it would take you days to figure out what you think they said,” he told The Oklahoman's Nolan Clay.
Similar complaints and others were aired recently by coaches, administrators and parents at a legislative hearing. Some accused the association of selectively enforcing its rules. Others questioned how revenues generated from playoff games are distributed. One coach who's been on the sidelines 40 years said the relationship between coaches and the OSSAA is “at an all-time low.”
Those hearings continue Thursday. The man directing them is state Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, who, among other things, wants greater transparency from the OSSAA and a better accounting of spending practices — its annual budget is about $5 million. Cleveland said Tuesday he isn't hopeful the OSSAA will “recognize that they have a problem and fix it.”
The organization has a difficult job, riding herd over nearly 500 member schools and activities ranging from football to speech. OSSAA staff deals each year with more than 1,000 requests for rule waivers, the results of which can leave parents and schools angry.
But the OSSAA and its board would do well to digest the Supreme Court's opinion, listen to what others are saying and then work to improve the organization. To be sure, many are watching to see if that happens.