FHSAA Adopts Changes to Protect Athletes

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FHSAA Adopts Changes to Protect Athletes

The Florida High School Athletic Association today adopted three forward-looking measures to better protect fair play, provide for increased student mobility among member schools when appropriate and enhance due process measures for student-athletes who compete in FHSAA activities. A new bylaw approved by the organization’s Representative Assembly seeks to safeguard teens from the ongoing threat of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), while another measure sharpens the focus of rules targeting impermissible enrollment changes for athletic purposes.

The Representative Assembly consists of athletic directors, school administrators and school board members from across Florida chosen to establish bylaws governing FHSAA. The new measures take effect July 1 and will apply to high school athletics beginning with the next school year. FHSAA’s Board of Directors will enact any policies needed to implement the new bylaws in April.

“FHSAA continually looks for ways to improve the safety of our student-athletes and ensure that they compete on a level playing field,” said Dr. Roger Dearing, FHSAA’s executive director. “Performance-enhancing drugs and unscrupulous recruiting are two of the biggest threats we’ve had to deal with in recent years, and these bylaw changes will go a long way to addressing those challenges.”

The PED bylaw language emerged after a comprehensive review of existing FHSAA policies, conducted in the wake of reports that Florida high school student-athletes were among those who received PEDs as part of the Biogenesis scandal. The lab earned notoriety through its alleged involvement with baseball star Alex Rodriguez, who was suspended for the 2014 season by an arbitrator’s ruling over the weekend. In August, Dearing asked FHSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to perform a top-to-bottom review of existing PED policies, and the result of that initiative was the new PED bylaw.

The new bylaw specifically adds human growth hormone, steroids, performance-enhancing drugs and Schedule 3 narcotics to the list of substances banned for use by high school student-athletes. Use of the substances would be considered an “act of unsportsmanlike conduct” making the student ineligible for competition until medical evidence is presented showing that the substances are no longer in the student’s system. Narrowly drawn exemptions are allowed for students using any of the substances under the care of a pediatric endocrinologist or other appropriate physician.

A second bylaw change targets impermissible enrollment changes for athletic purposes. These often occur after a teen plays for another school’s coach on a club team or similar non-school activity and then changes schools to play for that coach (giving rise to the “follow-the-coach” nickname). Under the new “previous contact” standard, transferring student-athletes would be allowed to play at their new school in sports that do not involve the coach in question and could even play the affected sport at a sub-varsity level.

Under the new bylaw, a student-athlete could compete without interruption if the last grade he or she attended was the final grade offered at the previous school. This change would most typically benefit eighth graders whose decision to attend a high school outside their regular zone results in them playing for a coach they met through a non-school activity. The change is expected to greatly reduce the number of appeals of FHSAA sanctions – a ninth-graders accounted for 46 percent of sectional appeals over the past two years.

The new bylaws also introduce a new layer of mediation to the FHSAA appeals process, providing even greater due process opportunities for student-athletes and schools that wish to challenge sanctions. This mediation layer would be available after a case has been considered in a sectional appeal but before it reaches a final appeal in front of the FHSAA Board of Directors.

“Our goal is to give young student-athletes the greatest opportunity to compete in a safe, fair environment,” Dearing said. “These new bylaws will help us make sure enforcement actions are focused on those who would undermine safety and fair play, while letting the overwhelming majority of student-athletes continue to enjoy the many benefits of participating in high school athletics.”

The specific language of the new bylaws is available at www.fhsaa.org/gov/2013-14-bylaw-changes.

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