High school choice would make high school athletes 'free agents'

- Bill 684 sounds like it could be high school football play, but instead it's a number that will drastically alter all high school sports if it passes in Tallahassee.

It's a proposal that's made its way out of a senate committee that will allow "school choice" for all sports, meaning any student-athlete can go to any school as long as there are openings.

Lakeland Senator Kelli Stargel is one of two legislators that's pushing for change. "I hope we are trying to hit the target which is to not allow recruiting, but at the same time give the kids an opportunity to participate in sports at school," said Stargel. "I just hope this will get it done this year."

It has the support of two of Hillsborough County's winningest coaches.

"I'm all for it," said Hillsborough High head football coach Earl Garcia. "I thinks it's been a long time coming."

"I'm happy it's here," said Armwood head coach Sean Callahan.

The new law would in essence give parents control to move their kids into more successful programs or into better situations to play. Often the motive is driven by college scholarships. Finding any edge whether it's paying for showcase events or playing for high profiled programs can be financially rewarding. Armwood head coach Sean Callahan believes there is one winner in this Bill.

"The families and that's what I think the Senate is focused on," said Callahan. "Meeting that need and allowing people to choose. That's what this country has been great about. For some reason we are so concerned about somebody winning so many games and having all the great ball players. It's not going to happen."

The biggest criticism with this bill is the belief that this is going strengthen the "haves" and weaken the "have-nots," like Leto High, which has the worst football record in Hillsborough County over the last five years.

"High schools have almost become the 'Wild, Wild, West,'" said Leto High head football coach Matt Kitchie.

"My biggest worry is schools like mine are going to suffer tremendously. We have our own talent here at Leto, but all of a sudden those one or two that we have compared to those other school's 8 or 9 start saying 'well let me go and play with those 8 or 9.' Now you have super schools."

To prevent coaches from blatantly starting recruiting war the bill includes a $5,000 dollar fine for a school found guilty of the "R-word."

"I still don't believe anybody needs to be recruiting for their program," said Callahan. "You're still not allowed to go out and recruit people. If somebody comes to your school and does it the right way, then so be it."

"Free agency is a negative," said Garcia. "You're still not allowed to go out and recruit people. If somebody comes to your school and does it the right way, then so be it. "If truth be told there's been free agency forever. As soon as they put up the 2nd high school in the history of high schools there were people competing and vying for athletes and academic related kids."

"The question I have is, how do you prove it now?" said Kitchie. "This bill allows kids to move freely. How do you prove they were recruited? If kids are just bouncing. There's not a lot of proof of what coaches said or did."

As the bill reads now it not only allows free movement, it allows unlimited movement. Meaning a high school athlete could play for a different school every season.

"I think they have to put limitations on it," said Kitchie. "The ability to move freely is a great idea. Free market place and all that stuff, but there has to be limitations. Because when you start having the ability to move freely it somewhat changes the game a little bit. It becomes professional sports almost."

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