MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WBMA) — If you've got kids in sports, you've likely heard of the Alabama High School Athletic Association known as the AHSAA. One state lawmaker says the private organization has too much power over public school sports with no accountability.
Eight bills are up for consideration in the state legislature covering everything from audits of the AHSAA to forcing schools to accept cash at sporting events.
"I am ticked off," remarked South Alabama State Senator Chris Elliot. He is among those who say the "game of gotcha" needs to end. He's referring to the transfer rules and eligibility decisions that can knock entire teams out of the playoffs when one player is ruled ineligible at the end of the season. Elliot says those decisions need to come at the beginning of the season.
"I don't want the legislature to be in charge of overseeing the organization. I do want to get their attention and let them know that I am serious. People are hurt by their policies," remarked Elliot.
He told a state senate committee of private investigators following families. Soccer players dropping out of high school sports to play club ball because the rules say they can't do both.
Over the years intense public pressure has changed some rules like allowing religious accommodations after a school said it wouldn't play on Saturdays. There was also a change after an elite player was benched when she was given a small stipend to help with expenses for international tournaments.
Elliot also wants the AHSAA to open its financial books. When we asked had he ever seen an audit or budget he said no.
A 2019 (latest available) IRS Form 990 for the AHSAA listed:
Total Revenue $7,183,763.
Total Assets $10.8 Million
Total Liabilities $881,118
Net Assets or Fund Balance $9,919,588
Former AHSAA Athletic Director's salary: $235,766
The AHSAA would not release current financial records to ABC 3340 News and declined our request for a sit-down interview.
Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida athletic associations are similar to Alabama's in that they are private, non-profit organizations. But their media departments told us their budgets and audits are public records meaning the media or any interested party can look at them.
The athletic association in Tennessee has a budget of $4-$5 million dollars. Florida's budget is around $6 million according to a spokesperson.
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The AHSAA has been in business 100 years. The executive director says there is a democratic process in place to change rules. Board members and the legislative council are elected from districts across 418 high schools and 300 middle schools.
But Elliot contends many won't go public with their concerns. "They're afraid. I talked to a number of superintendents and coaches who are very concerned about retribution. This is a cabal of folks who control high school sports," said Elliot.
Speaking before a senate committee the AHSAA's Executive Director Alan Briggs offered to form a committee and work through the issues Elliot and others have raised. Briggs admits even he is troubled by some rules.
"Please give us a chance to make changes in these bylaws. I can't sleep when I have to call a school and take them out of the play offs. It's not something we want to do," explained Briggs to the committee.
Another senator agreed it is time to take a look at rules as times have changed.
But State Senator Roger Smitherman who is also a coach at Ramsay High School says the legislature does not need to bring politics into high school sports.
"We should not be involved in what they do. They are an independent association," said Smitherman.
He explained since no state money goes to the AHSAA there is no need for a state audit of the books. "That's not state money, that's private money," remarked Smitherman.
By a narrow margin Elliot's bills did not make it out of committee, but he is not deterred saying he hopes the pressure will encourage change.
"Those few folks who are controlling all this money and all of high school sports in Alabama, my hope is this will help them see the light," said Elliot.
Senator Elliot also argues if the athletic association is not a state agency, its employees should not be entitled to state retirement benefits.