The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK


September 18, 2013

Pulling back OSSAA’s doors

“Bar Rescue,” a hit show on Spike TV about saving bars that are about to go under, tells viewers at the top of each show the troubled bar’s owners have “agreed to pull back the doors and bust open the books” as a bar expert attempts to rescue them.

It’s also advice the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) may be well-advised to heed after it came under heavy criticism at Tuesday’s first of three scheduled legislative public hearings in Oklahoma City.

The hearings, requested by Rep. Bobby Cleveland (R-Slaughte-rville) and held by the Oklahoma House Administrative Rules Committee, heard from several witnesses who expressed concern over OSSAA’s administrative process that seems often to be cloaked in secrecy, and at the very least, applies OSSAA’s rules in a capricious manner, especially when it comes to appeals, meting out punishment and accounting for its finances. Not a good trifecta.

Cleveland, who called for the hearings and a study after receiving complaints from constituents was blunt in his reasons for asking for the hearing.

“Because the OSSAA makes decisions that affect so many lives and derives money that is public in nature, there must be accountability and transparency,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “It is our intention to answer serious questions that have arisen.”

It is no secret OSSAA, which oversees high school athletics, has been wildly inconsistent in dealing with sticky issues such as what the penalties should be regarding improper transfers or paperwork mess ups. Many may recall the 2011 football playoff dustup that happened when first OSSAA ruled Guthrie had to forfeit eight games due to an ineligible player, then changed its mind, allowing Guthrie — which would go on to win the Class 5A title — to enter the playoffs, but slapped head coach Rafe Watkins with a suspension.

This past baseball season, OSSAA initially ruled Wright City could not participate in the Class A baseball playoffs due to an ineligible player, was taken to court, and then after the state supreme court ruled OSSAA had full authority, backtracked and overruled itself in a near-comedic manner.

These are not good things when as an organization you have  totalitarian control over high school athletics. OSSAA has an annual operating budget of $5.4 million, and generated more than $4.5 million last year from high school playoff gate receipts alone, something that has also become a sore subject.

Duncan High School football coach, Kim Longest, who also is the president of the Oklahoma Football Coaches Association, had harsh words for OSSAA’s formula for confiscating playoff gate receipts saying OSSAA has been unwilling to negotiate how revenue is divided.

“You are not going to make any money if you go to the playoffs anymore in football,” he told the committee.

OSSAA executive director Ed Sheakley, who strangely wasn’t invited to speak Tuesday, said it was true OSSAA is keeping more of the money, but said the group has been “able to increase reimbursement in all other activities.”

An omnipotent organization like OSSAA is bound to create hard feelings and not everyone is going to agree when decisions are rendered, however, it appears OSSAA needs to seriously reconsider some of its heavy-handed approach.

It is indeed time for OSSAA to “pull back the doors and bust open the books.” That is, if they wish to restore trust and promote an air of cooperation rather than its current atmosphere of suspicion.

Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at


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