The not-for-profit group that oversees high school sports in Illinois should be subject to state open-records law because it “performs a governmental function” and generates income “from events involving predominantly public schools,” a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Better Government Association contends.
The government watchdog group’s case, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, aims to force the Illinois High School Association to disclose details about its sponsorship deals, vendors, pension expenses and other aspects of its $11-million-a-year budget.
IHSA officials have said they aren’t required to comply with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act because the association doesn’t get money directly from taxpayers and membership is voluntary. […]
The BGA lawsuit, however, notes that IHSA lawyers argued in 2005 that the sports governing body “was organized for the purpose of conducting public business” and is a “state actor.” The IHSA attorneys — who made those statements in an appellate court filing in response to a defamation case the association ultimately won — also described Hickman as a “public employee.”
The IHSA’s own words “make clear IHSA is a public body under FOIA,” according to the BGA complaint, filed by the Loevy & Loevy law firm.
The BGA also provides content for the Sun-Times, so this is an interesting development, partially because the lawsuit might end up helping the Sun-Times’ bottom line by exposing real problems with the organization and possibly forcing a shakeup or more. I’ll get to that in a minute, though.
* The IHSA responded to the lawsuit late yesterday…
The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) released documentation from the Illinois Office of the Attorney General on July 24, 2014 confirming that the Association is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The documentation was provided after a lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court on July 23, 2014 that seeks to force the IHSA to submit to FOIA requests.
The documentation is a letter from the AG’s office written in 2010 which says IHSA is exempt from state FOIA requirements.
* I’ve been lately sorta watching this developing story from afar. I think excellent arguments can be made that the IHSA should be opened up to FOIA. The institution can stop public school kids from playing sports. It has all sorts of rules and regulations, and leaving it is impossible since the IHSA must approve any games between an IHSA team and a non-IHSA team.
But there is another angle, and one of our better commenters summed it up pretty well back in April…
There’s something in the background that NONE of the parties want to get pushed out front.
The media folks (in particular broadcasters) are seeing local (high school) sports being the last available ‘cash cow’ where they are not having to fork out serious cash for broadcast rights to other parties, like, but not limited to, IHSA.
They (media/broadcasters) want to make sure those payments for broadcasting rights won’t be happening anytime soon.
Part of the reason this whole issue is coming up is that some different high school athletic conferences are looking for new revenue sources, in light of potential future cutbacks in local/high school sports funding.
You have broadcasting groups who are talking about setting up complete multi-position filming of high school games, and then offering copies of game film for license to college athletics - in effect, acting as ‘advance scouting’ for college athletics.
I just wonder if any of this is going to come out in these so-called ‘hearings’.
That’s real money.
* But it isn’t just traditional broadcasters. Wrapports not only owns the Sun-Times, it also owns High School Cube, which broadcasts live high school sporting events. So far, it’s a free service funded by advertisers. From a 2013 article…
The numbers are staggering. Is this how Ray Kroc, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg got started? Chicago-based HighSchoolCube.com is to high school sports what McDonald’s is to hamburgers, Apple to the personal computer, Microsoft to computer software and Facebook to social networking.
Founded in January 2011 by two Texas entrepreneurs who wanted to own their own company and were passionate about high school space, HighSchoolCube.com provides a streaming platform for high schools to broadcast their live events — sports, band, concerts, plays, graduation. […]
In December 2011, it attracted 80,000 visits to its website. Last month, the number sky-rocketed to 400,000.
And it’s been going up ever since.
Wrapports also has a site called High School Cube News which features stories about high school sports (including the BGA lawsuit story above).
* To be clear, news is news and the IHSA story is most definitely news. I’m not accusing any reporters of any bias by any means. I have yet to see a single “bad” story at the paper about this particular subject.
It’s just that releasing the IHSA’s tight grip on high school sports could conceivably benefit the corporation which owns a newspaper that has been all over this particular story. It’s an angle that really hasn’t been explored.