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Krohn: GHSA is in a mess of its own making

POSTED: May 16, 2011 12:21 a.m.

There’s a civil war going on in Georgia, and once again, it’s the North that’s winning — for now.

It’s time for reclassification in high school sports, but the Georgia High School Association, which governs athletics for member schools, couldn’t be more divided over which plan to move forward with.

First, the 4/8 plan — supported by southern schools — was recommended by the reclassification committee in March. The final vote was 7-5. If one person had voted differently, it would have been a draw.

Then last week, the executive committee voted 35-15 against the 4/8, and passed the six-classification plan — supported by northern schools — 26-24. If one person had voted differently, it would have been a draw.

Though the GHSA intends to move forward with the six-classification plan, there is question as to whether it should have even been brought to the executive committee for a vote in the first place.

According to GHSA by-laws, only reclassification plans brought forth by the reclassification committee can be voted on. Following that by-law, only the 4/8 plan should have been voted on at the meeting. When a vote on the 4/8 plan was initially tabled in March, executive director Dr. Ralph Swearngin said at the time only the 4/8 plan could be voted on and that if it was squashed, the current five-classification plan would remain in place.

But then, something happened.

In the week leading up to last week’s executive committee meeting, Swearngin consulted with GHSA attorney Alan Connell, who provided legal justification for bypassing the by-law to allow a vote on the six-classification plan. Swearngin then sent an email to all 50 executive committee members explaining Connell’s ruling and implying that a vote on the six-class plan could take place at the executive committee meeting.

At the meeting, Swearngin circulated a document outlining why the 4/8 plan couldn’t work. After the 4/8 vote, when it became apparent there would be a vote on the six-class plan, Charlton County athletic director Jesse Crews, who serves on the reclassification committee, logged a challenge to the vote based on the GHSA by-law. Crews has since threatened to challenge the legality of the vote.

The divide is now beyond ugly — it’s now legal.

And Crews has a valid argument. Connell’s interpretation of the by-law is a red herring fallacy.

At last week’s meeting, Connell argued that in the past, issues other than reclassification that have been brought forth by a subcommittee have been modified during an executive committee meeting, and that the modified plans have been voted on without going back to the subcommittee.

Sounds good, except that the by-law Crews references doesn’t refer to just any subcommittee. It specifically concerns the reclassification subcommittee and implicitly lays out the exact process for how a reclassification plan is to be voted on.

Article 3, Section 2, C & D states, “(c) The number of classifications and the number of regions will be determined by the Reclassification Committee at the time of each realignment,” and, “(d) The realignment plan of the Reclassification Committee shall be ratified by a simple majority vote of the full Executive Committee.”

Connell went on to further dilute his argument with hypocrisy. He said that following the by-law on the books would allow a small group (the reclassification committee) to put a stranglehold on the entire executive committee, and that as an organization, the GHSA would never make progress. So, to follow its own by-law would be “setting a dangerous precedent.”

Yet, Connell’s “ruling” — I prefer the term “misinterpretation” — simply shifted power from the reclassification committee to another small group.

The six-classification plan earned the 26 votes required for a majority vote thanks to the 17 metro Atlanta schools, which voted 17-0 in favor of the six-class plan. The only reason the six-class vote took place is because Connell allowed the executive committee to break its own rules, so who set the “dangerous precedent” here?

Crews says he has a lawyer who will first speak with Connell this week as a courtesy before taking legal recourse. If Crews’ lawyer has even a minimal ability to apply law, he’ll be able to poke holes in Connell’s misinterpretation of the by-law as easily as someone holding a needle to a balloon full of water.

It’s clear that Connell did not look at the by-law objectively. Instead, he tried to make the square peg of a by-law somehow fit in to the circular agenda of one segment of the executive committee. What he should have done was make a motion to amend the current by-law to fit his agenda, and then have the executive committee vote on that. That amendment would likely have been passed, 26-24.

But there was an obvious and unexplained rush to make sure the six-class plan was voted on right then, at that meeting. So Connell chose to compromise the integrity of the organization by allowing it to violate its own constitution.

And so here we are, with a legal situation, and a valid one.

As messy as it already is, the current state of the divided executive committee is only going to get more messy now that it appears it will take a party outside of the GHSA to resolve its in-house issues.

The dysfunction of the GHSA executive committee is prevalent, possibly irreparable and downright embarrassing for the organization. And I don’t see how the sad state of the committee can change any time soon, or without the law stepping in.

Adam Krohn is a sports reporter for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesakrohn.



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