GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The most significant changes in how the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) operates is coming since the last massive change came in 1997, thanks to changes approved by the Florida Legislature and signed into law last week by Governor Ron DeSantis.
In 1997 the Florida Legislature passed CS/HB 991 that drastically changed the composition of the FHSAA’s Board of Directors from 33 members to 16 members while eliminating a five-member executive committee that was signed into law by then-Governor Lawton Chiles after concerns were expressed around the state that the FHSAA Commissioner – now called Executive Director – and the executive committee wielded too much power against its constituents according to an article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Now 26 years later, the FHSAA Board of Directors will see more changes coming that will see most of the board come out of the control of the FHSAA membership instead of being placed into the hands of the Governor of Florida, State Board of Education (Florida Department of Education), and the Florida Senate. The changes coming into law, effective July 1, are thanks to CS/CS/HB 225 being signed into law last week at Cambridge Christian in Tampa. This school filed a lawsuit against the FHSAA in recent years after the school was not permitted to hold prayer over the public address system before the Class 2A state football championship at the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) in Orlando back in 2015, which is addressed further later in this article.
And the changes to the FHSAA Board of Directors are the not only massive changes coming to the FHSAA as CS/CS/HB 225 includes many changes that affect everything from how the association operates to who can compete in the FHSAA state series in the over 30 sports sponsored by the association.
Over the years, we have attended numerous FHSAA Board of Directors and advisory committee meetings. With the experience no one else in Florida has, we break down what it means for each of the 12 changes that were highlighted in an email sent out recently by the FHSAA on behalf of Executive Director Craig Damon:
1. Authorizes charter school students, non-member private school students, and FLVS Full-Time Public Program students to participate in extracurricular activities at a private school.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Students at one of the classified institutions listed here can participate in extracurricular activities at a private school that is in the FHSAA and offers extracurricular activities. An example would be a student who wants to play football at Trinity Catholic in Ocala but attends The Villages Charter High School as a student, and this change would make it permissible. Another example is a student who attends Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which is all online through public education funding, allowing that student who desires to play a sport to participate with a private school team.
2. Authorizes traditional public-school students to participate at another public school in the same school district or may develop an agreement to participate at a private school in any sport/activity that is not offered by his/her traditional public school.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: If a public school does not offer a particular sport a student desires to participate in, but another public school in the same school district offers that sport, they may participate in that sport in that public school. For example, a student attending Edgewood Junior-Senior High in Merritt Island is interested in playing football and may join any other public school in Brevard County that offers football. That student also could have the option to develop an agreement to participate at a private school that offers that sport instead of going to another public school in that district. An example would be if a student is at Edgewood Junior-Senior High in Merritt Island and develops an agreement with Holy Trinity in Melbourne to participate on the football team at that school instead.
3. Revises the requirements related to non-member private school students.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: This means non-member private school students are gaining more options to play sports with FHSAA member schools that offer a sport they are interested in participating in. The first change in item No. 1 is one of those changes.
4. Authorizes a public-school student who is participating in a sport/activity and who transfers to another school, to continue participating in that sport/activity at his/her previous school through the remainder of that school year.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: That means if you start the school year at one school but decide to transfer to a different school for academic purposes but want to continue playing football, for instance, at the school you were previously at, this rule now permits that student to stay with that team for the remainder of the school year. An example would be a student who started the school year at Hawthorne Junior-Senior High and played football but decided to transfer to Eastside High School in Gainesville for academic purposes. Previously that student would have to transfer to the school and join that school’s team instead of under previous rules that allowed transferring eligibility during the season. Now the student could transfer to Eastside High School for academic purposes but can still play for Hawthorne Junior-Senior High until their season is completed.
5. Authorizes any school which joins the FHSAA by sport to be eligible for the State Series in that sport.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: A team can join the FHSAA now by sport and not be classified as an independent team for that sport because they joined by sport instead of as a full member. A great example would be IMG Academy in Bradenton. IMG Academy has been independent in football since joining its membership in 2013. This rule would now permit IMG Academy’s National Team (which is the team that is under the FHSAA membership as the Blue and White teams are independent teams in a different organization) to be eligible to compete in the state series and compete for a football state championship for the first time.
6. Authorizes the Commissioner of Education to direct the FHSAA to revise its bylaws at any time.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Commissioner of Education can tell the FHSAA that a bylaw must be changed and must be changed at that time. This could be through directives or through the action of the Board of Directors to make that change happen. Any bylaw currently written and in place with the FHSAA could be changed or removed by the direction of the Commissioner of Education. The Governor appoints the Commissioner of Education.
7. Requires any changes made to the FHSAA bylaws to be ratified by the State Board of Education.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: This means the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) will review all changes made to the FHSAA bylaw and will be the overseeing authority to approve or not approve changes in the bylaws. This is a significant change from what usually happens as the Representative Assembly votes on approving or disapproving changes to the FHSAA’s bylaws. More about the changes to the Representative Assembly will be made in item No. 11.
8. Removes the requirement that appointments to the Board of Directors reflect the demographic and population trends of Florida.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The FHSAA bylaws and, to the extent, FHSAA policies have been defined to reflect Florida’s demographics and population trends with the changes the state has seen over the years. This will no longer be that with the changes made to the FHSAA Board of Directors passed in CS/CS/HB 225, which will be further elaborated on in item No. 9.
9. Revises the composition of the Board of Directors to include 13 members, 8 of which are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The remaining 4 members will be elected by member schools:
- Two (2) public school representatives appointed from different Administrative Sections
- Two (2) private school representatives appointed from different Administrative Sections
- Two (2) at-large representatives (one appointed from Administrative Sections 1 & 2; one appointed from Administrative Sections 3 & 4)
- One (1) Superintendent appointed from Administrative Section 1
- One (1) School Board appointed member from Administrative Section 4
- Commissioner of Education or his/her designee.
- Two (2) public school representatives elected from different Administrative Sections
- Two (2) private school representatives elected from different Administrative Sections
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: This is one of the most significant changes that will be made here, and this is a significant change that is far from what the current board makeup is like based upon the changes that were made back in 1997.
Currently, the FHSAA Board of Directors is made up of these:
- Four (4) public school representatives, each elected from each of the four administrative sections. These representatives are usually athletic directors or school principals.
- Four (4) private school representatives, each elected from each of the four administrative sections. Again, like public school representatives, these are usually made up of athletic directors or school principals.
- Three (3) at-large representatives, one appointed from Administrative Sections 1 & 2, one appointed from Administrative Sections 3 & 4, and the final one appointed representing statewide citizens.
- Two (2) school board representatives, one appointed from Administrative Sections 1 & 2 and one appointed from Administrative Sections 3 & 4
- Two (2) school superintendents, one appointed from Administrative Sections 1 & 2, and one appointed from Administrative Sections 3 & 4
- Commissioner of Education or his/her designee.
As such, now the Governor will now appoint eight new members to the FHSAA Board of Directors, which will then be confirmed by the Florida Senate, likely through a special session process, although not defined, while the FHSAA membership will elect four members although it is not clear how the election process will be handled at this time to fill those four seats while the Commissioner of Education or his/her designee will hold the 13th and final seat on the newly created FHSAA Board of Directors.
10. Requires the hiring of the Executive Director and the budget adopted by the Board of Directors to be ratified by the State Board of Education.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The FHSAA budget will have to go through additional paths to being finalized, with the State Board of Education (FLDOE) looking at the budget starting with the 2023-2024 school year and in the future. That means the adoption by the FHSAA Board of Directors will no longer be the final say, and FLDOE will have its input on how the FHSAA spends money each school year. This also could open up to the public having more information about how the FHSAA financially operates. However, there still needs to be details on how the process will look when the State Board of Education sits down to ratify the FHSAA budget.
11. Reduces authority of the FHSAA Representative Assembly to an advisory committee which will now make legislative recommendations to the Board of Directors.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The FHSAA Representative Assembly has usually been the group that ratifies and adopts changes to the bylaws, a process that was kept separate from the Board of Directors, allowing the FHSAA membership a voice to giving the direction of how the association operates. That power is now being stripped here, and the Representative Assembly will function like an advisory committee that will make recommendations to the FHSAA Board of Directors and no longer has the authority to make changes directly.
12. Requires the FHSAA to allow participating schools to make open remarks over the PA system at FHSAA State Championship Series events.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Want to say how great your school is? Want to have a prayer session before a state championship? You will get that with this change as the FHSAA now has to allow participating schools at an FHSAA State Championship event the opportunity to make opening remarks over the public address (PA) system before an event commences. This change stems from what we mentioned earlier after Cambridge Christian was denied from having a prayer over the PA system before their game against University Christian for the Class 2A state championship at the Citrus Bowl in December 2015. That denial led to a lengthy lawsuit and appeals process that lasted over five years between Cambridge Christian and the FHSAA (which Cambridge Christian remained a member of the association despite the legal complaints). The case was eventually closed when the FHSAA was granted a Summary Judgement over Cambridge Christian’s request for a Summary Judgement, closing the case pending the appeals process, which back in August 2022 saw Cambridge Christian file an appeal with the 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals according to WUSF Public Media.
Overall, these are the most significant changes highlighted by CS/CS/HB 225 that are coming to the FHSAA, and at FloridaHSFootball.com, we will keep an eye on other changes that come forth over the summer as the new law takes effect and the new FHSAA Board of Directors is selected for the first time under the rules.