The Norman Transcript

October 4, 2013

Interim study examines complaints, concerns about athletic association

Changes to OSSAA are likely

By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript

OKLAHOMA CITY — For more than two hours Thursday, Ed Sheakley answered questions from the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

The director of Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association was called to the State Capitol at the conclusion of an interim study delving into complaints and concerns regarding his organization.

After the study ended, changes to how the OSSAA operates seemed to be in the near future.

“I do intend to have legislation, and I know other members do, too, to make sure the money is spent wisely,” said State Rep. Gus Blackwell, who chaired the committee conducting the study. “There are a lot of people who are not happy with this organization, and I think it was a highly productive use of the committee’s time. Several pieces of legislation have been proposed from this study that will change business as usual at the OSSAA.”

State Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, who requested the study, said it gave all sides a hearing and has provided state legislators with information on how to address complaints and concerns leveled against the organization.

“Proposals were made during the study on what we as state legislators could do to improve the current situation in the upcoming 2014 legislative session,” Cleveland said. “The Oklahoma Supreme Court has encouraged us to take action on our ruling, and I think we will be looking to make OSSAA more accountable to the state and, therefore, all Oklahomans.”

The interim study was authored by Cleveland and joined by Rep. Jason Murphey, who felt the OSSAA tried to keep the study from taking place.

“After we talked about calling for this interim study, your office sent out an email, and I think it was to a lot of the schools,” Murphey said. “It essentially asked them to call us with the statement, ‘Such action toward a private entity like the OSSAA will create a dangerous precedent for other organizations ... Let them know an interim study is not needed.’ Why was the attitude of your agency so hostile for us to even have this study?”

Sheakley didn’t agree with Murphey’s assessment of the situation.

“One of the things we feel is that change from the organization needs to come from within the organization,” Sheakley said. “We were not afraid of the interim study at all. We welcomed it.”

Thursday was the first time Sheakley had the opportunity to respond to complaints leveled against the OSSAA in the first two days of the study.

Sheakley was not only asked about certain cases his organization has ruled on but also accounting procedures, lawyer fees, athletes’ eligibility, possible misappropriations of funds and how board members are chosen. It was a wide-ranging question and answer session that, at times, became heated.

“We have three principled objectives of the OSSAA,” Sheakley said. “No. 1, we want to make and enforce rules to ensure fair competition and a level playing field.

“No. 2, we want to maintain an appropriate balance between academics and activities so that one doesn’t overshadow the other.

“No. 3, we want to establish and preserve equitable participation and opportunities for all our students to participate in extra curricular activities. Transparency and inclusion are essential to the success of our organization.”

The Oklahoma Supreme Court warned in a 7-2 opinion Wednesday that the OSSAA will see tougher judicial scrutiny of their actions going forward. Shannon agreed.

“In a strongly worded statement by the Supreme Court, they say changes must occur,” Blackwell said. “And regardless of what occurs in your meeting next week, changes will occur to the OSSAA legislatively next session.

“You are given this priority, this privilege to oversee athletics. And you have been weighed in the balances and, I believe, found wanting not only by the embezzlement of a half million dollars that would have aided kids in their education but also in the treatment that we have heard from people before the OSSAA.”

When the study was first announced earlier this year, one of the main points of interest had to deal with money taken in by the OSSAA during postseason games. That seemed to be at the heart of the proceedings.

“If you don’t have playoffs, there is no voluntary (reason to) belong to the OSSAA,” Blackwell said. “You play sports, and you play it for one reason: to win. So the fact you control the playoff system means you control the membership. With that, this interim study is concluded.”