OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma State Rep. Ty Burns, R-Pawnee, will hold an interim study this fall before the House Common Education Committee investigating the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA). A date for the study has not yet been set. OSSAA is a private non-profit that is funded primarily through tickets sold at high school playoff games, with an annual budget of about $6 million. The OSSAA also governs many aspects of high school athletics and activities including music,speech/debate and academic bowl.
Burns said he will study OSSAA’s finances and discrepancies in the organization’s policies related to student-athlete transfers and eligibility that he feels favor students of better means.
“During my time in office, many constituents have come to me with concerns that the OSSAA and their board have become more biased over time,” Burns said. “The concern is the potential harm this could cause our student-athletes who for any number of reasons might wish to transfer schools but continue to play the sports they love and that they may plan to pursue after high school.”
Burns said currently, if a student-athlete transfers to a school district outside of where they live, that student has to sit out a year before being eligible to participate in their chosen sport. This takes away an entire year of experience from students who already have a very limited playing window.
Burns said the concerns he’s heard center around Rule 8 in the OSSAA Manual and Title 70. OSSAA Rule 8 discusses establishing and maintaining athletic eligibility. Title 70 in the Oklahoma State Statutes pertains to schools.
This year Burns introduced House Bill 3968, which would have allowed students who transfer during the summer break to a school district outside of where they currently reside to maintain their eligibility to participate in sports. Current rules require students to sit out a year unless granted a hardship waiver by the OSSAA. The bill also would allow transfer students who are dependents of active uniformed military personnel to be exempt from the one-year waiting period. If the student transferred during the academic year, or more than once, their eligibility would be determined by the OSSAA. The bill would not have changed current recruiting rules and would have allowed superintendents to remain the deciding factor on whether or not to approve or deny a student’s transfer.
The bill failed to receive enough votes to pass out of the House Common Education Committee and did not advance. That sparked the request for the study.
Kevin Sain, with Sain Law Firm, P.C., also commented on OSSAA’s policy.
The OSSAA has created an unjust system in which students from wealthy families or urban areas benefit, while students from lower-income families or rural farming communities are disadvantaged.”Kevin Sain
“The OSSAA is failing families and children in Oklahoma,” Sain said. Rules need to be changed to ensure a fair and just transfer system. The reasons children transfer schools vary, but are rarely sports related. However, the OSSAA views every transfer as though that were the case. In doing so, the OSSAA has created an unjust system in which students from wealthy families or urban areas benefit, while students from lower-income families or rural farming communities are disadvantaged.”
Sain explained that a child from a wealthy family can transfer schools for any reason and still be eligible to participate in athletics as the OSSAA allows children to be eligible immediately after a bona fide move if the family sells their home and moves to the school district of their choice. Children from families of lesser means cannot afford similar moves, he said.
Sain will share other inequities in the system during the study. He is involved with the group Citizens Advocating for Change at the OSSAA.