May 27, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Debate on IHSA transfer policies seems likely to intensify

The Illinois High School Association, like most organizations, isn’t interested in losing power.

Aside from having a child participate in IHSA activities, I’m also certified as a baseball umpire, which is how my email address ended up on the distribution list for a Thursday morning missive from Executive Director Craig Anderson, an “important update” on House Bill 334.

It has been in the Rules Committee since March 2023. State Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, became the chief sponsor on April 15, 2024, the day the committee approved it for consideration and sent it to the Elementary & Secondary Education Committee. Lilly filed the floor amendment that has the IHSA on high alert:

“An association or other entity that has as one of its purposes promoting, sponsoring, regulating, or in any manner providing for interscholastic athletics or any form of athletic competition among schools and students within this state may not adopt any policy restricting a student from participating in interscholastic athletics when the student transfers from one school to another school.”

Anderson branded the proposal “interference by state government with the ability of state athletic associations to provide self-governance” and encouraged recipients to use a letter he drafted “as a starting point for communication of your opposition to the bill.”

He further thanked people who “created (witness) slips against the bill under very short notice.” The General Assembly website indeed shows 423 opponent slips against just 11 in favor. In contrast, to read someone passionate about forcing IHSA’s hand, veteran reporter Joe Trost (twitter.com/TrustTrost) has several recent lengthy posts.

Student transfers, athletic eligibility and state tournament participation by private schools are hot topics outside Illinois, although the key legal term here is “non-boundary,” an important distinction as not all public schools have ironclad border restrictions. Anderson’s letter referenced recent Florida changes he finds unpleasant. USA Today reported Friday on the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association loosening its restrictions.

All such discussions invite comparisons to the NCAA’s transfer portal, a rather recent development relevant to any college sports fan. Obviously, the football team at a 250-student school is a far cry from Rose Bowl participants and the billions of dollars in media rights, but the root question is the same: who can adjudicate student eligibility?

There’s time for debate on this issue, as HB 334 didn’t advance by Friday’s deadline. Regardless of the specific merits, the underlying concern is control. Member schools elect IHSA directors who hire an executive director and staff. The layers insulating IHSA policies from lawmakers and taxpayers are thicker than in most other education matters, but if the right people get angry, that self-governance will earn intense scrutiny.

I’m not predicting the ultimate outcome, but do expect this debate to intensify.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.