By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The group overseeing high school sports and extracurricular activities in Illinois will answer questions about its finances, despite its protests, which, ironically, have helped place it in front of a legislative committee.
“(It’s) suspicious,” state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, said Monday. “Why would anybody be afraid of a House resolution and hearings? If they don’t want to come, it’s kind of interesting.”
Chapa LaVia’s resolution asks for hearings into the IHSA, but the move could open the door to a state takeover of the group.
Chapa LaVia insists she just wants answers.
“I’ve said this … I stated in a meeting with the (IHSA) executive director (a takeover) is not my intention,” Chapa LaVia told lawmakers on the House floor.
The IHSA has said it is as open as it can be, but the private group doesn’t fall under Illinois’ open meeting and public information laws. The group also makes a lot of money; the IHSA’s annual budget of a little more than $10 million includes millions earned from public schools in Illinois.
“The contracts that (the IHSA) have at all of these championships are only their contracts,” Chapa LaVia noted. “The food vendor, Nike and Gatorade are their contracts. We don’t have any say. And they have the only broadcasting contract.”
High school sports, at least the major sports, are big business. The IHSA brought in more than $4 million from high school football and boys basketball last year alone.
The IHSA’s executive director, Marty Hickman, says the federal courts have looked at the confluence of schools public and private, and the TV contracts and other agreements are OK.
“Organizations like ours can have contracts with people to have exclusive rights to broadcast our events,” Hickman told Illinois Watchdog late last week. “That seems to me to be pretty common sense. And the court agreed with that.”
But not all lawmakers are on board with the hearings.
Republican David Leitch chided Chapa LaVia for turning a personal problem into a statewide issue.
“It’s not uncommon to have personality disputes. I don’t think those personality disputes should rise to the level of hearings by a House committee,” Leitch said. “The IHSA has done a very credible job. I don’t believe they should be subjected to an interrogation by individuals who have personality issues.”
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.