Fred Kroner: Challenging times for IHSA
BLOOMINGTON — The IHSA, in some quarters, is viewed as the Evil Empire.
It’s a perception that is prevalent among those with gripes about an organization in its 114th year of existence.
Some criticize the IHSA for its multiplier policy that is applied to non-boundaried schools.
Others don’t like the number of championships that are permitted in a particular sport.
There’s a group that complains about the way schools are grouped for postseason play.
The 25 IHSA employees — 10 administrators and 15 support staff — realize it’s part of the territory.
“We have 805 schools, with every kind of diversity,” executive director Marty Hickman said Friday afternoon from the IHSA’s headquarters, “under 100 (students) to 6,000. It’s hard to have a system that works for 800-plus schools that are very diverse.”
A different attack
The IHSA was blindsided by a recent proposal from Aurora Democrat Linda Chapa LaVia who — among other contentions — targets the association for a lack of transparency and also for student-safety concerns. She has introduced House Resolution 895, which could ultimately lead to the demise of the IHSA, with its duties being taken over by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
“The part that’s a little frustrating,” Hickman said, “is in our world, if we have a concern, we take it to that person or entity. If she had done that, I’d be surprised if we’d be in this position.”
Hickman has been seeking a face-to-face meeting with LaVia, and his wish was granted Thursday.
They had a 30-minute conference in Springfield. Also in attendance were former state Sen. John Millner, East Peoria Superintendent Chuck Nagel (the vice president of the IHSA Board of Directors and the former wrestling coach at Clinton High School) and state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Democrat from the Peoria area (and a former Parkland College and UI student).
“I would not characterize it as a good meeting,” Hickman said. “It was not productive. She (LaVia) hasn’t changed her position, and we feel we are being unfairly targeted. It’s a shoot-first, ask-questions-later approach. They’re trying to hold us to a standard that’s far different from what others like us are being held to.”
The hot-button topics that the IHSA must contend with are not ones for which LaVia is taking it to task. Her bill raises the specter of improprieties for an organization that has never had a hint of irregularities.
“That one person can pick an organization at random and have the ability to set the wheels in motion to have that organization taken over is surprising and disappointing to me,” said Matt Troha, an IHSA assistant executive director.
The concern about transparency is one that Hickman finds especially befuddling.
More than a decade ago, the IHSA eliminated dues for its member schools. The IHSA is a not-for-profit 501(c) organization that accepts no taxpayer money and is not obligated to reveal its financial statements.
However, the IHSA makes that information publicly available — and not just in recent years.
“I don’t think you’ll find many organizations that have audited financial statements online for all to see,” Hickman said.
The most recent figures available are for the 2012-13 school year. The IHSA’s income was $10,840,756, and its expenses were $10,785,221.
“If people think we have bags of money laying around, they are wrong,” Hickman said.
The profit for the 2012-13 school year was $55,535.
“We feel we’ve gone above and beyond as far as transparency,” Troha said.
It’s speculation how LaVia’s legislation will be ultimately resolved. The process is far from finished.
Before it could become law, it would have to pass through a House committee. Public hearings would need to be held. A bill would have to be written that the state House and Senate would each have to pass by majority vote, and then it would need the governor’s signature to become official.
“The indications we’ve had, this isn’t going anywhere,” Hickman said. “I think it is highly unlikely that the State Board of Education will administer athletic programs in the state of Illinois. I haven’t had one person tell me they think it’s a good idea.
“They have no expertise in the area. They have no money for it and are already understaffed and underfunded. It’s what we’ve been doing since 1900. It’s not what they do. It would divert them from their own mission.”
Hickman said there are inaccuracies in LaVia’s legislation.
“For example,” Hickman said, “that we’ve forced schools to buy certain balls or bats or uniforms.”
While the IHSA requires a ball from a specific manufacturer to be used throughout the state-meet series in each sport, it provides the balls to the schools without charge. The IHSA office is currently lined with boxes of soccer balls and tennis balls that will soon be distributed to sites hosting regional or sectional events.
For regular season events, high schools have no mandate on which ball to use.
“We’ve been criticized for student-safety issues,” he said, “yet we’re one of the leaders in the country for student-safety issues. We introduced performance-enhancing drug testing, concussion legislation and a catastrophic insurance bill.
“All of the good things that are going on here seem to be overshadowed by one resolution from one member of the House.”
‘Open ... to suggestions’
Troha and Hickman acknowledge there is room for improvement within the IHSA.
“Maybe we should put a link on the front page of the website to the financial stuff,” Troha said.
“Any organization will tell you, of course there are things we can do better,” Hickman said. “We are open to other reasonable suggestions and ideas.”
Hickman has grown accustomed to hearing from folks with complaints, but the past several weeks have produced a turnaround.
“One of the consequences of this situation is a lot of people have reached out to say, ‘It’s not fair’ or ‘Keep up the good work,’ ” Hickman said. “That has been one of the silver linings. We’ve even had folks in the media say those things.”
Though he remains optimistic about the future of the IHSA and its prominent role in interscholastic sports in the state, Hickman also understands there are no givens.
“At the end of the day, we don’t have any control over the process or the outcome,” he said.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s executive sports editor. He writes a high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5235, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
IHSA at a glance
2012-13 School Year Income
Boys’ athletics $5,637,193
Girls’ athletics $1,951,336
2012-13 School Year Expenses
Boys’ athletics $3,235,566
Girls’ athletics $1,833,488
NOTES: Net difference is profit of $55,535; figures courtesy IHSA