Harold Slemmer sat through legal meeting after legal meeting last weekend at the yearly National Federation of High School State Associations gathering in Indianapolis.
The same topics bubbled to the surface. Nearly half of the three-day meetings was spent discussing transfers and residency changes. When is an apartment not a home? What are state high school associations’ rights when it comes to policing their own schools?
The Arizona Interscholastic Association joined an increasing number of states in tackling those issues when its legislative council voted recently to use a private firm to investigate alleged wrongdoings by schools as a last resort to the current model of self-policing.
The move came in response to frequent allegations by schools, parents and students of rampant improprieties within various high school sports programs.
Most states east of the Mississippi have already adopted the ability to use a P.I. Slemmer estimated nearly 40 other states have adopted a right to investigate.
The bylaw will officially take effect here on July 1, but the AIA and its school constituents still have plenty of questions waiting for answers.
“How are we going to do this?” Tempe Corona del Sol athletic director Dan Nero asked. “That’s the great big question.”
There are more.
What criteria will determine whether an investigator is needed?
Who will the AIA hire to take on this part-time, complex role?
Who will pay for these services?
Today, nobody knows.
“I don’t think it’s been defined,” Gilbert district athletic director Mark Cisterna said. “The AIA has to make those decisions with help from the rest of us.”
“I think it’s going to be what the AIA wants it to be,” Scottsdale Horizon athletic director John Pierce added.
To an extent, Slemmer disagrees with Pierce’s sentiments, but has recommendations he’ll likely make to the Legislative Council once it convenes in August. Among them:
• In the interest of complete objectivity, hire an outsider to be an investigator, one familiar with all privacy laws, but someone outside Arizona’s high school or athletic circles for anonymity purposes.
Any allegations brought forth would continue to be investigated by the member school and its athletic director. If a formal allegation is serious enough in nature and a school or district athletic director has reason to believe information is being withheld, the investigator could be summoned.
“I don’t see this person investigating every hearsay and rumor,” Cisterna said. “Our biggest concern is will we, as an AD, be able to protect our students. We have to be held accountable and can’t just release everything. What’s protected and legal? That’s what has to be decided.”
• The AIA would use money already allocated to a legal fund set aside for these special circumstances.
• The AIA would create its own model of implementation and enforcement, rather than adopt what other states have done.
“Other states are responding on real emotion of, ‘Let’s get ‘em,’ and I’m very skeptical of going into a process of trying to catch you or set up a sting,” Slemmer said. “The protocol has to be fair and we’re going to help with schools and work with them on the facts, but we’re not out there to set them up for failure.”
Slemmer recalled just one incident in his nine years at the AIA in which an investigator would likely have been used, but declined to identify it. And while the concept of an independent investigator sounds well and good, some aren’t yet convinced that it can happen.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” Pierce said. “Wait-and-see is a good way to put this. I’m concerned it’ll open up a can of worms and go places we don’t need to.”
Mesa district athletic director Steve Hogen, however, sees this as moving a step closer to the NCAA, in which universities and their athletic programs can be scrutinized and policed from above.
“It’s a delicate door to go through,” he said. “At the same time, you have that out there and the power to do it, and I think it’ll immediately make people stay on the up-and-up.”
It hasn’t stopped NCAA schools and coaches from committing extreme violations, but if dangling Magnum P.I. deters a high school from circumventing, it’ll be worth the while to Slemmer.
“We don’t want to create paranoia so the process needs to be fair,” he said. “It’s like everyone wondering if they’re being audited by the IRS. ‘Why are they picking on me?’ It’s all built on trust because that’s what self-policing is about and we certainly don’t want to violate that.”