Rep. Ben Sherrer
PRYOR, OK —
The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Athletic Association (OSSAA) is a voluntary, membership organization. Its membership is comprised of public and private schools which pay membership fees to belong to the organization for the administration of competitive, extra-curricular activities. The member schools elect board members and agree to be bound the rules governing competition and eligibility.
Contrary to the commonly held belief of much of the public, the OSSAA is not an arm of the State Department of Education and is not subject to regulation by the government. At least not yet. The Oklahoma legislature is now considering measures which would prevent membership in such private organizations if the organization doesn’t comply with certain aspects of Oklahoma law than now only apply to governmental entities.
Depending on each person’s perspective, the reasons for the legislature’s venture into government regulation of this private organization may be justifiable or offensive. But under any analysis legislative oversight is an expanse of government reach into an area that has generally been held sacred: private, non-profit, voluntary, membership organizations.
Now in my 10th year in the legislature, it has become apparent that there truly are very few new ideas at the Capitol. In fact, my own venture into the OSSAA world was about 8 or 9 years ago with complaints about the classification of private schools. Never considering legislation because the OSSAA isn’t a government entity, I instead opted for a bully-pulpit approach and wrote editorials and gave speeches on the issue. Not because of me, but because of its own membership, OSSAA ultimately implemented a new classification scheme. And by the way, my constituency let me know that they thought I should probably spend my time on other things than sports. But here’s the point: the change was accomplished by the organization through its members, not by legislative fiat.
Maybe it’s our continued over-focus on sport that makes it acceptable for the Oklahoma legislature to poke its nose in on this subject. And maybe that’s why congressional hearings on baseball are much more interesting than congressional hearings on the Affordable Care Act.
But I digress. If proponents of smaller government and liberty really mean what they say, then smaller government should mean abiding by the general rule of staying out of any private organization if public health and safety isn’t at risk. Any movement toward regulation of a private athletic organization will only serve to politicize high school extra-curricular activities in our state. It will create a whole new legislative niche that will detract from real areas that need attention: education, healthcare, human services, corrections, and transportation to name a few.
Like a rooting pig, when government gets its nose under the fence it’s going to get loose. Private, voluntary, non-profit associations should be free from micromanagement by the government. What’s next? Your church? Your club?