While it may be too late to save USA Basketball star Maori Davenport’s senior season at Charles Henderson High School in Troy, one prominent state legislator has drafted a bill to bring public oversight and accountability to the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) moving forward.
As the AHSAA continues to get battered by criticism over its decision to rule Davenport ineligible because of a mistake the association admitted was the fault of others, state Rep. Kyle South (R-Fayette) is attempting to fix a problem that he views as much more than an isolated poor decision by the AHSAA.
In an interview with Yellowhammer News during the first day of the House organizational session on Tuesday, South explained that the AHSAA’s lack of accountability and transparency has been an issue – and prickly point of contention with state lawmakers and officials – going back for years.
While the Davenport situation has given the AHSAA a fresh black eye on the national stage, change has been a long time coming. And, seeing that South already has a whopping 87 House cosponsors, and counting, signed on after just one day back in Montgomery, 2019 might just be the year that change finally happens.
Per a copy of the draft bill obtained by Yellowhammer News, South’s legislation would do three main things.
First, it would mandate that any rules by the AHSAA regarding a student athlete’s eligibility be reviewed and approved by the State Board of Education. This is directly addressing the type of situation that Davenport now faces.
Second, South’s bill would codify that 25 percent of the AHSAA governing body be appointed by the State Board of Education or the State Superintendent of Education. This composition would need to be put into place by January 1, 2020, and would provide public accountability throughout all aspects of the AHSAA’s governance.
Which leads into the third change: the legislation would require that the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts audit the AHSAA in the same manner as it would a public agency.
While the AHSAA is a private organization and prides itself on the autonomy therein, South views these changes as reasonable, constructive measures of accountability seeing that the AHSAA boasts membership consisting mostly of public entities, relies on money sent to it by these public entities and holds the majority of its events on public properties.
In fact, South said “in a roundabout way,” the AHSAA subsists off of public funds.
“The majority of their revenues are from gates, during playoffs in every sport, where a third of that money has to be paid back to the AHSAA in the form of a check from the schools,” South explained. “And at the point that they cut a check from a [public] school, it’s public funds. So, for them to say that we don’t have any authority whatsoever over them, technically we could cut off their funding. And that’s not what I’m aiming to do, but if we need to we could go down that road.”
At the end of the day, if the legislature really wanted to, it could create a publicly run entity within or overseen by the State Department of Education to replace the AHSAA. That would possibly be the most extreme solution and one that South is not currently proposing. But he did advise that other states governed their high school athletics by doing just that.
The House of Representatives’ will to get involved and shake up the AHSAA did not happen overnight.
“I think this one situation [regarding Davenport] has highlighted some ongoing issues, and while it’s brought forth things to light for many people, we’re not doing this just because of this one incident. This is a cumulative thing, where there have been situations over the years that have led to this. And [Davenport’s] situation is the one that broke the camel’s back,” South outlined.
From South’s perspective, the AHSAA has general oversight and accountability problems that are leading to poor decisions by the association, which in turn produce poor outcomes for student-athletes and schools.
“My biggest problem with [the AHSAA] is that the schools make up the board members obviously … but for fear of retribution by their governing body, nobody ever brings up any issues and it becomes somewhat of a dictatorship at that point,” South advised. “If you’re scared to say your piece for fear of retribution, then you’ve got a big problem.”
While South has not moved onto finding a senator to carry the bill in that chamber or solicit Senate cosponsors quite yet, the representative did tell Yellowhammer News that both chambers received a special visit from Davenport herself on Tuesday. State Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy) and the mayor of Troy helped introduce her around to share her story.
The basketball sensation spoke to the House majority caucus and even gave an address on the Senate floor.
South said that Davenport “obviously has a lot of talent, and unfortunately she’s just being kept from showing those talents right now.”
“That’s the unfortunate part,” South added.
But, like South believes, Davenport emphasized to the legislators Tuesday that even if they cannot resurrect the remainder of her senior season, they can prevent this type of situation happening to any more student athletes in Alabama moving forward.
“I don’t know if anything we can do can get her back on the court, but I would like to put as much pressure in place to see that happen as possible and prevent a similar thing happening in the future,” South stressed.
With 87 House cosponsors in one day (South believes that he will end up with over 90 representatives cosponsoring when all is said and done), he is certainly making waves.
“If that doesn’t get somebody’s attention, I don’t know what will,” South remarked.
He expects to prefile the bill when the House organizational session adjourns sine die. The last possible day of the organizational session is Thursday, January 17.
Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Lieutenant Governor-elect Will Ainsworth have called on the AHSAA to reinstate Davenport’s eligibility immediately, as have additional state legislators from both parties, including state Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) and Allen.
— Wes Allen (@RepWesAllen) January 8, 2019
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn