SPRINGFIELD — The not-for-profit group that makes millions of dollars off high school sports including basketball and football defended its financial records and operations Tuesday in front of a panel of state lawmakers amid criticism about a lack of transparency and talks of shifting its responsibilities to the state.
Illinois High School Association representatives testified during a House committee hearing on Tuesday. Lawmakers voted to bring them to the Capitol last month. Democratic Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia sponsored the legislation. She says the organization should be more transparent about the money it returns to schools.
But IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman argued that his group posts financial audits online. He says the organization returned $2.7 million to schools last year and uses other profits to support non-revenue generating activities like bass fishing.
Republicans questioned why a non-government group with positive results should go through scrutiny from legislators.
Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem, who previously served as a basketball coach at Mater Dei High School in Breese and as a school administrator in Salem, noted that IHSA's expenditures are slightly less than its revenue. That, he said, might be a good approach for state lawmakers.
"I wish we could do that here," Cavaletto said.
Cavaletto also argued the organization is good for students.
"I think great lessons are learned by students through the IHSA," he said. "Winning and losing is a part of life, and I think it teaches that."
Hickman, the IHSA director, argued that his group -- which doesn't charge schools a fee to join the association -- posts financial audits online and uses money from profitable events and contracts to fund nonrevenue-generating events such as bass fishing, chess and the Scholastic Bowl.
"We pay our bills. We fund our pension. We have great programs for kids, and they all benefit from their participation in interscholastic athletics. Why that would warrant some government intervention seems odd to us," Hickman said.
The IHSA made about $5.7 million from championship contests last year. Financial records posted on the association's website show the IHSA kept $1.9 million and gave schools $2.7 million, while the remaining $1 million covered officials' fees. IHSA also earned about $500,000 from royalties, media and contracts with companies such as Nike, Gatorade and Country Financial.
State Board of Education officials said they haven't discussed taking control of sometimes profitable extracurricular activities, adding that they would need more taxpayer dollars to do so. Still, Democratic Rep. Kenneth Dunkin of Chicago says it's a possibility, depending on information revealed in hearings he's organizing in Chicago.
Those hearings are expected to begin this summer.
"They may come under state jurisdiction since they benefit financially, directly not indirectly, based off of public funding of transportation, schools, public facilities," Dunkin said.
Don Craven, attorney for the Illinois Press Association and the Illinois Broadcasters Association, told lawmakers the the IHSA is a "state actor" -- essentially a unit of state government -- because it regulates high school activities. Craven said the IHSA therefore should be subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, and be required to disclose all of its financial records, including contracts with companies that sponsor sports events.
The IHSA and the media have clashed over the rights to images and video from school sports events.