Thursday, July 24, 2008

State must rein in out-of-control KHSAA

In times past, the Kentucky High School Athletics Association was an independent body governing scholastic sports and administering the state basketball tournaments, football playoffs, etc.

This is no longer the case. Several years ago, the state Department of Education took control of high school sports. The KHSAA basically became an adjunct of the state education agency. KHSAA Board of Control decisions are now subject to review by the state, and bylaws must be approved by legislative subcommittees, much like administrative regulations.

Recent reports in the Lexington Herald-Leader show the KHSAA to be an out-of-control rogue agency that defies court orders and generally does not act in the best interest of student athletes.

One particular case shows the KHSAA's inadequacy in a nutshell, but what's more troublesome are revelations of the KHSAA's attitudes toward the judicial system.

Let's look at the individual case first. Anyone who follows University of Kentucky basketball knows that Dakotah Euton is a young recruit who has already committed to play for the Wildcats. Euton's family is from the northeastern part of Kentucky (Ashland/Greenup area) and Euton had been playing for Rose Hill Academy.

Several months ago, Euton's father lost his job and he was forced to seek employment elsewhere. Unable to land a job in his field in the Ashland area, the elder Euton finally found a position in the Lexington area. So Euton packed up his family, stud basketball player included, and moved to Georgetown, and Dakotah subsequently enrolled at Scott County High School.

It's not unusual for people who work in Lexington to live in one of the surrounding counties. In fact, that's the key reason for growth in such towns as Winchester and Richmond. A large segment of the population in those and other towns surrounding Lexington actually works in Fayette County. And the school system often plays a role not only in what town someone decides to move to, but also in what school district they settle in within the county.

The problem here seems to be that Scott County is a traditional high school basketball power, and Euton is an up-and-coming youngster who needs to test his mettle against premium competition before trading in his high school uniform for the Blue and White. At any rate, the KHSAA ruled Dakotah ineligible to play basketball at Scott County this coming year.

We're hard pressed to come up with any more asinine and ridiculous administrative decision ever. This was no transfer for athletic purposes. Mr. Euton lost his job. In order to find a job in his profession, he was forced to move his family two hours away. It's not something they did voluntarily. Did the KHSAA expect him to get a job working the drive-through at McDonald's, suffering a drastic pay cut in the process, and keep Dakotah enrolled at Rose Hill instead of finding a job in his field at a comparable rate of pay?

The Eutons will appeal this ruling, but that's where the arrogance of the KHSAA becomes even more troubling.

It's not uncommon for students' families to file challenges in court to KHSAA eligibility decisions, and often in these cases, courts will issue injunctions ordering the KHSAA to allow the student to participate in sports. But instead of abiding by the court orders, the KHSAA usually still urges the school not to allow the player to participate. The KHSAA says that if the ruling is overturned on appeal and the ineligibility finding is upheld, the school will be made to forfeit games and possibly face sanctions for using an ineligible player.

This is absurd. A state agency blatantly and willfully defies a court order and threatens punishment to member schools who abide by that order.

What if a court ordered the Cabinet for Families and Children to take some action -- say, removing a child from a home and placing it in foster care? And what if the cabinet secretary ordered the agency's staff not to abide by the ruling, and further decreed that any employee who did as ordered by the court would be suspended, fired, or otherwise punished? How long do you think that would be tolerated?

That scenario is no different than the way the KHSAA conducts business in eligibility cases. Perhaps the judges should broaden their injunctions and orders to state that the KHSAA is forbidden from taking any disciplinary actions against schools that comply with court orders. Or maybe it'll take a few members of the KHSAA Board of Control sitting in jail for a few days on contempt of court charges to finally make that body wake up and smell the roses in the common sense flower garden.

The KHSAA is out of control. It's very obviously a rogue agency, and it's time for the Department of Education to get a handle on it. Commissioner Jon Draud has found himself on the receiving end of a lot of bad publicity early in his term, about provisions of his contract and his choice of a state vehicle. Draud could earn some points for himself by getting a handle on the KHSAA mess and getting them back under the same rules as all other state agencies must follow.

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