The 20-day public comment period on proposed changes to the state Board of Education’s athletic eligibility rules ended Tuesday with a public hearing that drew just a couple of comments. None of the comments were negative. Board attorney Carol Gretta wasn’t surprised that the changes raised few comments.
Gretta says two years ago the big change was made from requiring athletes to pass just four classes to requiring them to pass all classes, and changing the penalty from one full semester to 20 school days. "All we’re doing now is just making some minor changes to the penalty part of it," Gretta explains.
The changes would make an athlete sit out 30 calendar days for failing to pass a class, and would drop a requirement that they have to serve the suspension in a sport they have played before.
Gretta says the changes were sought by the schools, which is another reason for the lack of comments. Gretta says two years ago at this time when the first change was proposed, she got over 100 written comments, and saw several people at the public hearing. While this time she received just one written comment on the proposed changes, and there were less than one dozen people who were at the remote sites for the public hearing. There were 30 public sites on the Iowa Communications Network for people who wanted to participate.
At the site in Des Moines, reporters outnumbered the people who came to speak at the hearing. One of those to speak up was Des Moines East athletic director Ric Powell, who praised the change. Powell says it has been a learning experience for the Des Moines schools as they were impacted in the first semester because they had some planned in-service days that could not be counted as school days for suspensions. Powell says that caused the football players on his team to sit five games to meet the 20 school day penalty period, while schools that didn’t have in-service days had players who only had to sit out four games.
Powell likes changing the penalty period to a standard 30 calendar days. Powell says it will be easier for the parents to understand and for athletic directors to explain to parents the exact period when athletes would have to sit out. Powell also likes the change that does away with requiring athletes to serve their penalty time in a sport where they were a "bonafide contestant."
Powell says the "bonafide contestant" rule meant the player had to have played the sport previously to serve their penalty in that season, and if they skipped a year playing, they lost their status in that sport. He says freshmen who were playing for the first time could serve a penalty in any sport, since they hadn’t played any sports yet, while sophomores, juniors and seniors had to adhere to the rule, which he says was really confusing.
Without the "bonafide competitor" rule, an athlete could be found ineligible in one sport, and go out for another sport just to serve their penalty. Powell says that is a concern, but the player has to complete the penalty season in "good standing," which means they have to come to practice, follow team rules and complete the season. "So I think the coaches, as long as it is stated that it has to be done in good standing (serving the penalty), they are okay with that and ready to move along with the rule," Powell says.
Powell believes the rule change has made an impact on the athletes. "I think it’s brought a new importance to education, I think more and more kids are concerned about passing every class, are concerned about grade point averages, and that only helps them prepare for the future, getting into colleges, that sort of thing," Powell explains. He says the changes will improve the rule and make it easier to understand and explain.
The Board of Education is expected to take a vote on the final approval of the new rules at its meeting in April and they would go into effect for the 2008-2009 sports season.