State Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) would like to know why Iowa is the only state that doesn’t have a singular entity controlling all of its high school extracurricular activities.
In fact, he authored Senate File 326, which would prohibit Iowa public schools from giving any money to the Iowa High School Athletic Association or Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union after Jan. 1, 2022.
“We’re the only state with two associations,” Feenstra said after a subcommittee meeting Monday. “A lot of our questions were about if the money these groups are bringing in is being used correctly, in a way that benefits Iowa student-athletes, or is it all going to salary and wages for the people who work there?”
Deal raises questions
Such questions likely would have never entered Feenstra’s mind if not for the IHSAA’s broadcasting deal with the Iowa High School Sports Network, and its subsequent deal with NBC Sports Chicago (formerly Comcast Sports Net Chicago).
That deal meant that the IHSAA’s state championship events would not be available in the bulk of western Iowa and a good chunk of the central part of the state without a satellite service or streaming device. Few cable systems in the western half of the state carry that channel.
“The thing that really tripped us up was the Comcast deal,” Feenstra said. “There was a significant dollar amount involved in that. When you see the end result of it, it’s great for the east, but that doesn’t help us on the western side of the state. I still can’t see the football games. When it first happened, I was inundated with phone calls and e-mail about it. That raised my concern. I mean, how much was this deal for and where was that money going?”
IGHSAU executive director Jean Berger was careful in discussing television contracts. The IGHSAU doesn’t receive any money in its deal with Iowa Public Television and IPTV takes care of all the costs associated with the broadcasts. Those broadcasts can be seen free of charge throughout the state and the streaming of the early rounds also is available for free.
That is quite different from the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s deal, but Berger shrugged it off as a “difference in approach.”
For Berger and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, I’m sure the whole scene felt like getting called into the principal’s office for something your brother did.
“I understand why Senator Feenstra would be worried for the area he represents,” Berger said. “The timing of things makes the difference in approach apparent. This fall Hull Western and Unity Christian both played in the state volleyball tournament and you could see all the games free through our livestreaming and our deal with IPTV. Then the very next week you have Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley playing football and those games are not available for free. I’m sure he hears about it from people in his region every time.”
The question about the IHSAA and IHSSN deal had Feenstra wondering about other deals the IHSAA has made.
“I’d also be interesting in knowing how much is locked up in contracts with Wells Fargo (Arena),” Feenstra said. “We’ve had declining attendance at the boys basketball tournament for a few years now. Who is coming down to watch the games? Would it be better if we could condense it to a three- or four-day event where everyone would stay in town the whole time? You look at Boyden-Hull and Rock Valley. They both played today. If they win, they go home for a day and then come back on Wednesday.”
Can we streamline?
What it all led to was a discussion about efficiency.
“One of the other things we talked about was, would it be better if the boys association and the girls association were combined,” Feenstra said. “There was a lot of discussion about it. They had their opportunities to promote what whey do.”
He wondered if there was some overlap in what the employees of each of the organizations do.
“How many would there be if there were more collaboration? The girls lease office space in Des Moines,” Feenstra said. “How much is that costing? What if they were all in one space?”
He said while the IHSAA and IGHSAU are technically private businesses, he considers them “quaisi-government operations.”
“We wanted to see if there was some inefficiency in there and a way they can serve the students better,” Feenstra said. “They do a great job with the combined track meet. They do bowling and cross country together. Why are they doing that for just those three and not for other sports? How much of that is just kind of protecting their own castle?”
Separation came early
Berger offered a history lesson.
“We just had the 100th girls state basketball tournament in Iowa,” she said. “It’s been happening since 1920. From 1920 to 1925, the girls and boys combined under one administration. Then in 1925 they were going to discontinue the girls tournament. Some of the athletic directors had decided it wasn’t good for girls to be participating in such strenuous activities. There was a group that disagreed and wanted to keep it going. They splintered off and that’s how our union was formed. Now, 95 years later we’re back to asking why we aren’t together.”
Berger said there are plenty of examples that have her concerned about the fate of girls athletics without its own union. She is afraid the girls will be pushed to the margins.
“We are concerned with the qualify of opportunity for the girls,” she said. “Michigan has one state association. Their girls just finished their state tournament. They played at different high school gyms around the state. The boys had their state tournament and they played in an NBA arena.”
Alan Beste, the executive director of the IHSAA, said during the hearing that there’s been discussion over the years between the IHSAA and IGHSAU about becoming more efficient.
He noted the IHSAA has 17 employees, three of which are staff members at the Iowa Hall of Pride. The IGHSAU has 15 employees. Beste said the groups serve hundreds of schools, 15,000 athletic coaches, 7.000 athletic officials and a combined 75,000 student-athletes.
Berger and Beste were quick to note there are two other organizations in Iowa as well.
“One thing we pointed out right away is that Iowa is unique because we actually have four different organizations — one for speech, one for music, one for boys athletics and one for girls athletics,” Berger said. “The structure is unique. Each organization has a specific group it serves. That’s really a benefit of the system, that all of these groups get specific attention.”
Berger said the IGHSAU contributes $70,000 per year to the speech association. In addition, it shares a facility with the group. She said the IHSAA has a similar deal with the music association.
“We know the financial challenges our membership faces,” Berger said. “We stay cognizant of that. There are many ways we already work together. We do track, cross country and bowling championships together. We work together to provide concussion insurance for our athletes. We work together on eligibility rules so it’s all the same for everyone. We also have a joint committee that meets three to four times a year to talk about what is important to our members and what we can do for the benefit of the schools.”
The last segment of discussion was on the cost of admission.
“There was some concern about the cost of going to games,” Feenstra said. “I have four kids. By the time you pay for them, me and my wife that cost can get pretty significant. I can afford it, but what about those families that can’t? How are they supposed to watch their kids play?”
Berger and Beste informed the group that admission prices for regular-season games are set locally. Berger said she would make a note of the concern and bring it to the athletic directors for more discussion.
Hard to regulate
As far as the proposed law goes, the money that directly goes to the IHSAA and IGHSAU is limited at best. Therefore, it’s unlikely the proposal ever sees vote on the Senate floor.
The IHSAA used to have a $2 yearly membership fee, but has dropped that entirely.
The IGHSAU charges a membership fee of $50 per year.
“We get 86 percent of our revenue from ticket sales and probably another 3 percent from corporate sponsorships,” Berger said. “Our board has, in the past, discussed waiving the membership fee and I’m sure it will come up again. Different organizations have different ways of raising funds. I think in Arizona they charge $800 per school in membership fees. Other states have entry fees for every event you enter.”
She noted Iowa schools are not charged an entry fee for postseason tournaments.
Feenstra said there was some great discussion, but he got “not so great answers” to his questions regarding efficiency and how much of the money brought in is spent on salaries and how much goes to benefit the athletes. Feenstra noted he can’t legally force the associations to say how much they spend in employee salaries unless he calls for an audit of the organizations.