I am told that Lakeland is on the cusp of losing the FHSAA state basketball championships as the result of a power struggle between our city’s state legislators and the Florida High School Athletics Association.
My well-placed source for this story reached out to me directly, and I trust this person implicitly.
To boil it down, according to my source, the FHSAA committed not long ago to a multi-year extension for Lakeland as host of the state finals. It has now rescinded that commitment and is putting the state championships out to premature bid to punish local legislators for trying to significantly ease restrictions on high school transfers for athletes. As I understand the opaque power of the FHSAA, this is something it can easily do without creating a record of doing it.
I wrote a little bit about the odd priorities of adults in athletic transfer governance at the time.
And there’s every indication that Lakeland’s legislators back then sought to reward cheating and punish the FHSAA for enforcing its petty transfer rules. I am told at least one legislator had a personal friendship with the family of one of the transfer kids. So I think you could correctly say our legislators started this fight. And now the FHSAA is escalating it. It’s all quite charming. So let’s be clear: there’s no one to root for in this except the economic interest of my city which puts on a nice event and has done nothing the deserve this idiocy.
It’s also impossible for me to verify any of this is actually happening. It may be impossible for anyone to verify it. I’ve covered enough of these types of bureaucratic/political insider fights to know that everyone involved will deny any ulterior motives and cover everything they do in the gauzy language of serving student-athletes and acting as good stewards of public money, etc., etc.
For example, my source says that the threat against the state finals is tied directly to House Bill 533, titled “Student Eligibility for Extracurricular Activities.” Seems logical, right?
Yet, if you look at the current text of HB 533, you will see that it relates only to the physicals kids must take before playing. It seems entirely innocuous. My source suggests that bill is actually a stalking horse for a sweeping proposal that would allow, as I understand it, kids taking online classes to pick the high school where they want to play football. For instance, a Lakeland High booster could set up a virtual school, sign-up players from outside the school zone to take their classes through it, and then allow them to play for Lakeland High.
I don’t know if this is true. But it would be easy enough to add the language during the course of legislative horse-trading.
I feel comfortable reporting this, despite my lack of clear documentary evidence, because the entire thing seems quite plausible with the sordid history of sports transfer wars in this town. And I trust my source. And, by the way, I’m not a professional journalist. I just want the adults involved to know that people are talking about this.
I encourage other folks who are professional journalists to get some people on the record denying it. I’m not going to waste my time chasing petulant adults pretending to give a rat’s rear end about kids or their communities.