By Staff

Athletic Management, 17.2, February/March 2005,

State boards of education received an admonition from their national organizing body this fall: Begin closer monitoring of high school sports. Present in all but two states, the boards typically govern graduation requirements, state assessments, teacher accreditation, and other academic matters, but have left the management of high school athletics up to local school boards and state athletic associations. That may change, however, if state school boards respond to a set of 18 recommendations issued by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE).

The recommendations were issued in a report by the NASBE Commission on High School Athletics, a group of 10 state school board members who spent the past year studying trends in high school sports. Commission members heard presentations on a variety of topics by NFHS staff members, researchers who study athletics, and individual high school athletic directors. In October, the group sent a 40-page report containing its 18 recommendations to every state school board member in the country.

NASBE Director of Governmental and Public Affairs David Griffith says the report is intended as a wake-up call. "The report urges state school boards to begin looking at how high school sports are being run in their state in a scientific, research-based manner," Griffith says. "There needs to be a lot more oversight and a lot more attention paid at the state level to what is going on."

According to Griffith, the commissionís main concerns focused on: athletics budgets, particularly for football, growing at a rapid pace; athletes being encouraged to specialize in one sport; growing conflicts between high school and club sports; a philosophy of inclusion being replaced by the promotion of elite athletes; and a win-at-all-costs mentality fostering the growing use of performance-enhancing drugs. All of this adds up, according to Griffith, to high school sports that are in danger of losing their educational identity.

"There is a general consensus that a problem exists," he says. "Many of the problems colleges face have filtered down to the high school level. I donít know if weíre in crisis yet, but we need to be vigilant so that we avoid that fate."

One of the key areas addressed in the report is student-athletesí academic eligibility. The commission urges state boards to adopt statewide requirements based on progress toward a high school diploma, not just a student-athleteís ability to keep his or her grades up during a particular season.

The report also addresses athletics funding. "We discovered that most of the funding for high school sports doesnít come from school, district, or state budgets," Griffith says. "Most of the funding is private, and that leads to big inequities. Some communities can afford to fund lavish programs and others cannot. One of our recommendations is that states conduct extensive research to find out how much money is truly being spent and where the money is coming from. And then we suggest that they put into place some mechanism for leveling the playing field."

In addition, the report asks state boards to examine policies that could be instituted to encourage multi-sport athletes, and to expand access to sports for vocational, special education, and home-schooled students. They are also asked to examine coaching education requirements and to make them more uniform.

Griffith emphasizes that the commissionís recommendations are not an attempt to set national standards for high school sports. "Each state operates differently, and there is no one perfect way of doing things," he says. "Weíre providing national recommendations that states can tailor to their own circumstances, taking into account local traditions and customs."

For at least one high school athletic director, more state school board control is an unappealing concept. "At the last athletic directorsí meeting in our conference, sports getting out of control was the main topic of conversation," says Bill Smith, Athletic Director at Harrison (Mich.) High School. "Everyone agrees itís a problem. But I donít think the state board of education is capable of running high school sports. I donít think they understand the complexities involved."

Smith believes the most important regulations occur at the individual school level. Located in suburban Detroit, Harrison boasts more football state championships than any other school in Michigan. However, Smith believes his schoolís solid core mission and philosophy keeps athletics in perspective.

"Excellence in athletics is just a part of our overall philosophy of excellence," he says. "Our kids know that if they do not perform in the classroom, they will not be playing. They know that we expect excellence across the board, and that we value their academic success above all else. For us, athletics becomes just another avenue for our high expectations of our students, another way for them to succeed and learn.

"We have a mission and we keep it constantly in front of our coaches, our athletes, and our parents," he adds. "Regardless of their success, districts with a strong academic mission and a commitment to the growth of the whole student do not lose focus."

For more information and to obtain a copy of the report, visit: