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BGA sues IHSA over FOIA

Friday, Jul 25, 2014

* Sun-Times

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.

IT’S MONEY.

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.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


14 Comments
  1. - Ghost - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 12:34 pm:

    IHSA is bound by its binding judicial admission.

    simplification: you cant take a position in a case and prevail on it, and then try to assert the opposite in another lawsuuit. Tell a court something and use it to win and your locked in.


  2. - Billy Dennis - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 12:43 pm:

    Agreed.


  3. - CircularFiringSquad - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 12:57 pm:

    You can always take a position and take another position in another case — just try not to get caught
    We would like to review that Wrapports LLC is just an arm for the dark money lobo group AKA BGA. As we know every BGA utterance is tied to a hand out request which is kept secret and tax deductible


  4. - Give Me A Break - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 1:24 pm:

    Can’t to see the lawmakers get involved with running HS sports. A typical Thursday call would be a lawmaker calling the IHSA.

    Lawmaker: I’ve got a guy who walked for me during the last campaign, he would be a great offical.

    IHSA: The officals are already assigned and they are a good crew.

    Lawmaker: You know I sit on the LAC and the IHSA audit is coming up, it would be nice to be able to have something good to say about the IHSA.

    IHSA: Send us his name.


  5. - hisgirlfriday - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 1:28 pm:

    Is the “public body” “state actor” admission a slam dunk though when the public body can have one definition under a defamation law and another under FOIA, where the specific “public body” definition doesn’t sound like the IHSA is included?

    Not to mention there are some public body exceptions to FOIA, like the GA itself? And given the WrapPorts competition could they argue exemption under the trade/commercial/financial secrets exemption?


  6. - Ghost - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 2:43 pm:

    hisgirlfriday, again simplyfing a bit, yes :) the default interpretation of FOIA is to err on the side of disclosure.


  7. - Anyone Remember - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 2:47 pm:

    Ghost -

    While IHSA may have argued in 2005 they were a public body, in 2010 the Attorney General said they were exempt from FOIA. Absent a court ruling to the contrary / subsequent legislation, that AG statement meants they’re exempt from FOIA.


  8. - JS Mill - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 2:50 pm:

    Although the ILGA hearings are a joke (how can they possibly think their intervention will help anything) the BGA suit has some merit, conflict of interest not withstanding. The IHSA is a very tightly closed circle that needs to be opened up sum. Sunlight is a great disinfectant.


  9. - steve schnorf - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 3:24 pm:

    Rich, this is a very slippery slope. What about groups like Lutheran or Catholic Charities. Aren’t most of what they do functions that the state would otherwise do? And don’t they do it primarily with public money? And please people, don’t nit-pick the 2 examples I chose. Please try to think the bigger picture. Are all these non-profits all over the state using public funds from grants and contracts to perform functions the state would otherwise have to perform, going to be treated as if they are state agencies?


  10. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 3:37 pm:

    Steve, LSSI doesn’t make rules that public school districts and students must follow.


  11. - steve schnorf - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 4:04 pm:

    Rich, they don’t have to follow them; only if they want to participate in IHSA sanctioned activities. Listen to what the big football conferences are saying to the NCAA (an IHSA equivalent)”Get out of our way or we will form our own association”. The school systems have chosen IHSA as who they want. They could set up a whole new system in 12 months, all join it, and abandon the IHSA. The schools choose not to do that.


  12. - Phenomynous - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 4:06 pm:

    I agree with Schnorf that this is a slippery slope. Think of all of the 501c3’s that get direct grants from the state (something the IHSA doesn’t get), and then apply the fact that these group perform essential state services and could be deemed “state actors”. Should Planned Parenthood or early childhood education programs be subject to FOIA, or GA committee examinations into hiring practices and financial information that goes outside of what is already required by law?

    The need for Rules and Regs within the IHSA are necessary due to the scope of the service they provide. Without the rules, it would be a free for all.

    This is about money, plain and simple…money from numerous angles with many potential beneficiaries.


  13. - steve schnorf - Friday, Jul 25, 14 @ 4:18 pm:

    I guess underlying my comment is my feeling that nothing BGA, as it is currently constructed and operated, suggests or seeks will strike me as a good idea


  14. - Retired AD - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 10:45 am:

    Rich,

    You mention not seeing any “bias” or “bad” stories on this subject. The Sun-Times published a story entitled: “IHSA tournament profits tumble as employee salaries rise” that cited a 21% salary increase. The IHSA’s accountants then rebutted that, showing a calculation change that the ST missed and that the actual increase was 3%.

    The Sun-Times then wrote a story essentially accusing the IHSA of ripping off schools over hosting revenue, but didnt talk to a single school person about it. The IHSA responded with quotes from multiple school people reaffirming that the schools had set the revenue model and were happy with it.


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