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Burzichelli Calls for Agency’s Full Cooperation, Proposes Independent Monitor to Help Oversee Transition

On the heels of a scathing report by the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) that found numerous spending and ethics abuses at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney have introduced legislation that would overhaul the beleaguered agency’s operations.

“It’s clear from the SCI report that the NJSIAA is wholly incapable of handling the business affairs associated with administering the vast network of high school sports activities,” said Burzichelli (D-Salem/Cumberland/Gloucester). “This bill will protect the interests of our student-athletes by taking the best of the NJSIAA and consolidating it under the umbrella of the School Boards Association to provide more transparency.”

At the heart of the bill (A-3368) is a provision that would require the Commissioner of Education to oversee, or to authorize the New Jersey Schools Boards Association to oversee, the activities associated with statewide interscholastic sports programs for students enrolled in grades 9 through 12 in public or nonpublic schools. Burzichelli noted that although the bill provides flexibility, he believes it’s more feasible to have the activities administered by the School Boards Association (SBA).

“High school sports are supposed to benefit our scholar-athletes, not the adults running the show,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “The systemic problems at the NJSIAA have proven the need for us to take this action. It’s time that the only thing that matters is how the game is played on the field, not how much money can be made off it.”

“The level of waste and abuse detailed in this report is simply unacceptable,” said Oliver (D-Essex). “Students and parents are getting hit left and right by increased activity fees while executives enjoy lavish perks. If we don’t overhaul this operation now, we risk turning the wonderful experience of athletics into a luxury afforded only by the privileged.”

The bill would also require dues and fees to remain relatively the same, minus any Consumer Price Index adjustments for future years. To that end, the SBA would not be able to charge a public secondary school a fee to participate in the program beyond the current membership dues. Furthermore, the SBA would not be able to factor any costs associated with overseeing interscholastic sports programs into the membership dues assessed to a board of education; or charge a non-public secondary school a fee to participate that exceeds the membership fee charged by the NJSIAA for the prior school year.

The bill provides that the current rules and regulations put forth by the NJSIAA will remain in full force and effect unless subsequently revised by the commissioner or the SBA as applicable. If the SBA is in fact designated to oversee statewide interscholastic sports, any amendments proposed to the rules and regulations must be approved by the commissioner. The proposed amendments would go into effect no less than 20 days after its submission to the commissioner unless the commissioner disapproves the amendment within that 20-day period.

Lastly, the bill would require the commissioner or the SBA, as applicable, to prepare a report on or before September 1 of each school year detailing the commissioner’s or association’s oversight of the operating and financial activities of the statewide interscholastic sports programs. The bill stipulates that these changes would not go into effect until September 1, 2011.

As a follow-up to the legislation, Burzichelli also sent a letter to NJSIAA officials today calling for their full cooperation during this transition and suggesting the appointment of an independent monitor to help oversee the transition in order to re-establish public confidence in the association’s operations.

“In my opinion, such cooperation is imperative to student athletes and their families, and vital to the NJSIAA employees who will find job opportunities under the new set up. I know everyone agrees that the most important goal here is creating a reliable oversight environment for our student athletes to succeed both on and off the playing field,” Burzichelli noted in his letter.