FHSAA Board of Directors: Drafted NIL language discussed while rural classification sees more changes

FHSAA Board of Directors met for their third meeting of the 2023-2024 school year in Gainesville

FloridaHSFootball | By Joshua Wilson | February 26, 2024

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Once considered just a mere discussion topic in passing, the Florida High School Athletic Association has officially brought the most significant, even of a draft, a version of what Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) policies could like for high school athletics in Florida while more changes for the rural classification were discussed.

FHSAA discusses first draft language of its proposed NIL policy

The first draft language of what FHSAA NIL policy could look like was released late last week and even before the draft language was released, has already caused a massive debate among coaches across the state.

And that debate grew even louder once that language was released which would be incorporated into Policy 9.9 which already is the home to policy surrounding amateurism. You can click here to view the proposed policy language.

With open enrollment being in place in Florida, the Sunshine State is in a unique predicament when it comes to building policy surrounding NIL. That is compared to the 31 states including Washington DC where strict transfer policies are in place surrounding eligibility rules.

Jon Santucci from the USA Today Network Florida presented a great preview of the discussion from today, however, one thing seen by many was misprinted and initially was not caught until FloridaHSFootball.com read the draft while also having ready Santucci’s article several times.

In Santucci’s article it initially said this:

“The FHSAA proposal also states that school employees, boosters or representatives can “form, direct, offer, provide, or otherwise engage” in NIL agreements with student-athletes and that NIL activities should not be used as a disguise for athletic recruiting.”

However, that can is really a cannot for that part of the proposal.

But that is likely not even going to quell even the more quieter ones surrounding the discussion as there was a lot of debate from the Board of Directors despite the draft policy not being up for a formalized vote.

In the discussion process of about the NIL policy by the Board of Directors brought a variety of points:

  • Board member Ricky Bell said “there is not a person in this room that wants this.” Said that NIL in college is “just giving money to kids.” Does not want the same issues at the college level coming to Florida in not wanting collectives, boosters, etc. being involved.
  • There is no state legislation prohibiting NIL in Florida currently, but it seems there is a clear consensus from the Board of Directors that the FHSAA needs to enact policy before the Florida Legislature does it for the FHSAA. This was a concern by board member Trevor Berryhill of Master’s Academy in Oviedo.
  • Board member Paul Selvidio of Community School of Naples raised the issue regarding about governance and compliance regarding NIL as the FHSAA does not have the staff for compliance in making sure any NIL policy and rules are being followed.
  • For board member Allen Shirley, who is the principal at South Sumter (Bushnell) said their “pockets of communities” that will be impacted by NIL policy and believes that in smaller suburban schools that there could be significant impacts quickly seen by those schools and the communities compared to more urban areas. Shirley also believes the policy is not “firm enough,” as it stands drafted. Says a lot of things are “very complexed,” here regarding NIL policy.
  • Board member Ryan Smith of the Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens raised concerns regarding the legal concerns surrounding NIL and brought up about having the elite bracket (open division) bracket for all sports.
  • As for Board President Monica Colucci said “whether we like it or not” NIL is here and that the guardrails are needing to be put in place. Educating students and parents was raised a big point of need in implementing NIL which Colucci stressed heavily.
  • Colucci also noted that with NIL having been implemented by the various state high school athletic associations, it is not state legislature mandates in the states that have been the driving force to implemented NIL at the high school level.
  • Board member Sara Bayliss of St. John Paul II in Tallahassee raised the concerns regarding the tax concerns that student athletes will see from NIL and hence why education is needed for parents and students regarding NIL. This comes on the basis of her role as a college counselor at St. John Paul II as she does entrance exams for students to understand the financial and legal implications involving student loans and scholarships for college.
  • Board Member Ricky Bell, has suggested proposing a workshop or a committee regarding the NIL policy. A workshop was voted 13-0 by the board and will be held on the Sunday morning of the scheduled Board of Directors meeting in April. 
  • Trevor Berryhill of the Master’s Academy mentioned Influencer Counsel out of the Orlando-area and about wanting to potentially bring them in as part of a workshop regarding NIL. Influencer Counsel which is a team of NIL experts of attorney Ronnie Bitman and licensed agent Dan LaForest, has been in the forefront of the ever-evolving changes regarding NIL. Bitman and LaForest have presented recently at several coaches clinics over the last two months including the FACA Spring Coaches Clinic and the Florida Nike Coach of the Year Clinic among others.

More changes for the Rural Classification on deck

After expressing extreme disappointment with being removed from the rural classification, Fort White, Union County (Lake Butler) and Williston all received welcomed news on Sunday afternoon from the Board of Directors.

All three schools which have been classified as rural programs going back to since the rural classification was first introduced in 2011, won appeals from the Board of Directors that appealed their placement to put the programs back in the rural classification for the 2024 and 2025 season.

This change for the three schools come after the FHSAA Board of Directors initially voted back in an emergency meeting in December to change the policy surrounding the rural classification to include only the smallest 32 schools that were classified rural per FHSAA policy. This change now means that 35 schools will be classified rural, violating the policy enacted.

The change of policy now impacts a district in Class 1A with District 5 where Fort White, Union County, and Williston were all placed in for the 2024 and 2025 years initially. Now that district will be left potentially with just two teams in P.K. Yonge (Gainesville) and Trinity Catholic (Ocala) giving football another increase in the number of two team districts.

However, the appeals were not the only change made to the rural classification.

A new pilot project which will take place over the next two years as brought to the board by member Ricky Bell of Tallahassee on a plan that was the brain child of two former FHSAA board members in Richard Finlayson of Aucilla Christian (Monticello) and now current Gulf County Public Schools Athletic Director, Bobby Johns in which to explore and establish a closer level of competition between schools in high school sports in Florida.

The thought in using the Rural Classification as a baseline would help determine if the plan has validity in establishing whether or not  it can improve the level of competition between teams. If the pilot project is successful is could be considered for all classifications in the future and for all sports.

The plan would be to divide the current teams in the Rural Classification into two divisions at the end of the season based on the current ranking system that is used by the FHSAA which will be a the MaxPreps power rankings starting for the 2024-2025 school year. The playoffs for the division would start the same week as the rest of the playoffs in all the other classifications around the state.

The idea of the two divisions would then allow for a “true region bracket” to be played through a four week playoff and then crown an A Division Champion and a B Division Champion. However, the discussion surrounding if the B Division Champion would be called a state champion was a point of debate by the Board of Directors. FHSAA staff has said that ultimately they will determine if the B Division champion would be called a state champion and will be determined a future date. 

Further more in the plan, if there are more than 32 teams that qualify for rural, those schools could “apply” to the FHSAA to enter the Rural Classification, but if they are approved would be only allowed to play in the “A Division”. Ultimately the plan calls to invite the smallest 40 rural school to be a part of the pilot, but does not have to be 40 schools total if there is not 40 schools and include two, 20-team brackets if 40 teams are in the Rural Classification and there would be play in games for the bottom teams for both divisions. 

The measuring success for the pilot project has been identified with the following criteria:

  • Assess the number of running clocks in the 2024 and 2025 postseason compared to past year.
  • Assess the margin of victory in the 2024 and 2025 postseason compared to past years.
  • Poll all coaches and athletic directors after the 2025 season both in rural as well as across other classes to determine their thoughts about the success or failure of the program.
  • Do the higher seeds in each division end up advancing into the state championship.
  • How does the program help the “B Division” teams find a better level of competition in the postseason than in the past years?

You can read more regarding the full plan of the pilot project here.

In support of the plan several board members brought up their support, however, one of the loudest will see the most direct impact based upon the pilot project.

Jim Norton, Gulf County Superintendent brought up the tale of the two high schools in his county regarding Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka and how important the proposal is for his schools for the rural schools as its not about the state championships, but being a business as football helps pay and support all the minor sports each school has. He encouraged all the board members to vote for the pilot project.

“This model works for all sports.” board member Berryhill said. His school, The Master’s Academy in Oviedo currently is a member of the Sunshine State Athletic Association (SSAA) in football and has seen this model work in the SSAA where they have won state championships in football including the 2023 season.

Other actions taken

  • Proposed bylaw changes were approved unanimously by the Board of Directors. You can view those changes here.
  • After a lengthy debate, a proposal to remove helmets in girls lacrosse, which Florida is the only state that mandates helmets in girls lacrosse failed by a 10-3 vote, meaning the helmet mandate will remain in place.
  • Basketball shot clock proposal was tabled once more by a 10-3 vote. That proposal can be read here.
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